lasttimeisaw's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Ear (Ucho)

7.7/10, my review:

Everybody Wants Some!!

6.2/10, my review:

Strange Days
Strange Days(1995)

7.3/10, my review:


7.0/10, my review:

Café Society

6.6/10, my review:

Steel Magnolias

6.8/10, my review:

Shadow of a Doubt

7.3/10, my review:


8.0/10, my review:


6.2/10, my review:

A Patch of Blue

8.1/10, my review:

Going My Way
Going My Way(1944)

7.1/10, my review:


7.4/10, my review:

Bread & Tulips

7.2/10, my review:

Mahanagar (The Big City) (The Great City)

8.7/10, my review:

Sudden Fear
Sudden Fear(1952)

7.1/10, my review:

What's Up, Doc?

7.6/10, my review:

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

4.7/10, my review:

Perfetti sconosciuti

7.7/10, my review:


6.6/10, my review:


8.7/10, my review:

The Fabulous Baker Boys

7.4/10, my review:

Sunday Bloody Sunday

7.9/10, my review:

Written on the Wind

8.0/10, my review:

Georgy Girl
Georgy Girl(1966)

7.2/10, my review:

Don't Look Now

8.3/10, my review:

Siwore (Il Mare)

6.3/10, my review:


6.6/10, my review:

Cat Ballou
Cat Ballou(1965)

6.7/10, my review:

Midnight Special

6.9/10, my review:

Il Tetto (The Roof)

7.5/10, my review:

A New Leaf
A New Leaf(1971)

6.9/10, my review:

Body Heat
Body Heat(1981)

7.9/10, my review:

Forbidden Games (Jeux interdits)

8.7/10, my review:

Being Flynn
Being Flynn(2012)

5.8/10, my review:


7.6/10, my review:

Bonjour Tristesse

7.2/10, my review:

Queen of Earth

7.3/10, my review:

Listen Up Philip

6.9/10, my review:


7.8/10, my review:

Irma La Douce

7.2/10, my review:

An Officer and a Gentleman

6.4/10, my review:

Le Notti di Cabiria (Nights of Cabiria)

8.7/10, my review:

La Moustache
La Moustache(2005)

5.6/10, my review:


6.9/10, my review:

Hester Street

7.6/10, my review:


6.6/10, my review:

En kärlekshistoria (A Swedish Love Story)

7.3/10, my review:

Les Soeurs Brontë (The Bronte Sisters)

7.5/10, my review:

A Place in the Sun

8.1/10, my review:

The Lady From Shanghai

7.7/10, my review:

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?

6.2/10, my review:


8.6/10, my review:

Captain America: Civil War

6.3/10, my review:

Farewell My Concubine (Ba wang bie ji)

9.1/10, my review:

Historias mínimas (Intimate Stories)

7.2/10, my review:

The Star
The Star(1952)

a 6.0/10, my review:


6.6/10, my review:

The Miracle Worker

8.3/10, my review:

Love and Anarchy

8.2/10, my review:

The Jungle Book

7.2/10, my review:

Séance on a Wet Afternoon

When Ms. Myra Savage (Stanley) self-professes that she is a professional medium, it does make me chuckle is there any definitive method to determine the word "professional" in this line of business in this cynical world? But Myra's believes her gift, but paradoxically in order to establish her reputation, she hatches a scheme of kidnapping a rich kid Amanda (Donner), and so she can her "gift" to correctly predict the whereabout of the kid and the ransom, to stage a sensation for her benefit.
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"What happened to her face?", about 38 minutes into this Woody Allen Sci-fi parody SLEEPER, audience can distinctly notice there is something drooping on the left cheek of Luna (Keaton), a make-up goof? How come this scene has been kept in the final editing? Nobody knows but Allen himself. From this angle, it actually bespeaks the half-hearted style of the movie and declares "don't take me too seriously please!".

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La Cérémonie (A Judgement in Stone)

I have the most polarised feeling towards this Claude Chabrol's 1995 crime-drama based on Ruth Rendell's novel A JUDGEMENT IN STONE, it is a sterling slow-burner charting the irreconcilable contradictions between upper class and working class, and climaxes with a real unsettling crime asking for shock value, but one cannot immune to Chabrol's rather deliberate demonization of proletariat by bluntly depicting those two low-class women, the maid Sophie (Bonnaire) and the postmistress Jeanne (Isabelle), as such nihilistic sociopaths, especially Sophie, who is so preoccupied by the shame that she is illiterate (which seems to be utterly unnecessary for a young girl, it is never too late to learn from the scratch, but no, she doesn't want to overcome her shortcoming, instead she hides it as if this is the final defence towards the collapse of her entire world) and acts like a complete ingrate, contrasting the benevolent Lelievre family, at least no one can nitpick their behaviours are over the boundary. Even for Jeanne, the rancour between her and Georges Lelievre (Cassel) is mutual, but his wife Catherine (Bisset) doesn't refuse her ask to a free-ride and his daughter Melinda (Ledoyen) even voluntarily fixes her engine malfunction for god's sake!

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After last summer's critics-panned squib TAMMY, which is not quite a financial disaster, but Melissa McCarthy's star power has inevitably been questioned whether her box-office draw can still maintain after her rotund figure and comedic schticks have been overly cashed in on these years. Thanks heaven SPY has arrived, a third collaboration with Paul Feig, and unites her with the criminally under-appreciated her BRIDESMAIDS (2011) co-star Rose Byrne, and under Feig's helm, together they concoct up a thoroughly hilarious spin-off of James Bond's spy trademark, with an overhaul of a female lead and in passing, finally fulfils Jude Law's yearning as a suited-up top agent after he lost the battle to Daniel Craig almost 10 years ago, and gives Jason Statham a rare opportunity to tease his own action hero stereotype.

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Gone With the Wind

Some movies you always know you will watch and you must watch, simply because it is a must-see and GONE WITH THE WIND is definitely one of them, hailed as "the greatest film of all time", how can I hold it up until now? Personally I can never find a right time to watch it not just because of its nearly 4-hour running time, also subjectively I am not a fan of Clark Gable, as he perpetually reeks of bad breath (thanks to the IMDB trivia section to ruin his silver-screen charisma for me), and feel daunted by the melodramatic nature of its source novel from Margaret Mitchell, but the moment has finally arrived and I have watched it for the very first time, and it is as good as I could ever anticipated, although with an epithet like "the greatest of all time", how can any film hold out on that supreme crown unscathed?
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Mad Max: Fury Road

At last, I get the chance to watch this much-hyped action-er in the local theatre, squeezed in a third-rate screen-room with a pretty small screen, this is what I can find for a current movie enters its third week run in Cairo, the hardware facilities are inferior, but we should all make the best of what we can acquire.

This reboot of the cult brand of MAD MAX from the mastermind behind its original trilogy is a felicitous remedy to the generational fatigue of CGI-rampaged action tentpoles the world is overloaded with presently. After decades of immersion into animation filmmaking (paid off with an Oscar trophy for HAPPY FEET 2006 with his co-directors), George Miller's grandiose return to live-action feature, the first one after LORENZO'S OIL in 1992, detonates the genre film enthusiasts with its cutting-edge visual spectacles which counter-act the current trend with the majority of its staggering set pieces accomplished with blood-and-flesh stuntmen and authentic objects other than virtual fictionalisation aided by computers, more pleasingly, the film has already conducts a profitable box-office trajectory worldwide, albeit it bears a hefty budget of $150 millions.

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It may sound dismissive to phrase the sentence "CAKE features Jennifer Aniston's career-best performance so far" since the only noteworthy acting job from Ms. Aniston's filmography before CAKE is THE GOOD GIRL (2002), a modest dark comedy gives her a nomination of Independent Spirit Awards more than a decade ago (being an eternal fanboy of FRIENDS, it is painful to admit that the sea change takes a bit too long to happen, ok, who am I kidding? She has been one of the most bankable mainstream actress and beloved celebrities in the cutthroat line of work, who would whine about that!), however, it is truly a sterling transformation for any actor to portray Clair as the way Ms. Aniston has done, a woman constantly suffered from chronic pain, and this is only the physical torture, a past tragedy of loss her son is severely gnawing at her internally, to the verge of giving up her own life.
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Bakjwi (Thirst)

A vampire love story loosely based on Émile Zola's THERESE RAQUIN, Chan-wook Park's THIRST (its original Korean title literally means: bat) is a blood-soaked psychological thriller about a Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), after experiencing a death-defying recovery owing to an undisclosed blood transfusion during his volunteer mission to find a vaccine for a deadly virus, he becomes the only survivor among all the infected, which attracts many devotees to worship him as a miracle from God. But the reality is that a craving for human blood has been commenced after the incident, the virus is still plaguing him, his skin is afflicted with blisters, only human blood can prohibit the symptoms and turn him into a nighttime creature endowed with all its well-established trappings like self-recovery, human-exceeding agility and strength.
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The Savages
The Savages(2007)

Tamara Jenkins' breakthrough indie drama-comedy THE SAVAGES, surprisingly captured 2 Oscar nominations back in 2008 , one for the unmistakably excellent Laura Linney and a BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY nomination for herself, so freshly coined as an Oscar nominee and subsequently granted the membership of the academy , allegedly her next project should be on the horizon at any time, nevertheless, as a telling manifest of the shameful situation of female directors in the movie industry, 8 years has passed, we still have no news of Tamara's follow-up to her excellent work, a life-affirming dissection of the worst-case scenario for (almost) every grown-up - how to fulfil our responsibility, when we must become the caretaker of our ageing parents during their last days.

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To Be or Not to Be

An enthralling and ebullient double bill of two versions of TO BE OR NOT TO BE, Lubitsch's Black & White masterpiece, also famous for being Carole Lombard's swan song before a plane crash brought her away from this world at the prime age of 33, and Mel Brooks' (almost) faithful color remade (although the director title falls on the head of his longtime collaborator Alan Johnson) starring him and his wife Ms. Bancroft.

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To Be or Not to Be

An enthralling and ebullient double bill of two versions of TO BE OR NOT TO BE, Lubitsch's Black & White masterpiece, also famous for being Carole Lombard's swan song before a plane crash brought her away from this world at the prime age of 33, and Mel Brooks' (almost) faithful color remade (although the director title falls on the head of his longtime collaborator Alan Johnson) starring him and his wife Ms. Bancroft.

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After consummating "McConaissance" in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013), Jean-Marc Vallée's next step is another star-vehicle biography, Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, a young woman embarked on a 2,650-mile hike of Pacific Crest Trail from Minneapolis, Minnesota to the Bridge of the Gods connecting Oregon and Washington in 1995. The aim of her journey is to detoxicate herself from her past bad habits of promiscuity and heroin addiction which had encroached her entire life after the untimely death of her mother Bobbi (Dern) and had already destroyed her marriage with Paul (Sadoski).

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The Manchurian Candidate

Speaking of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, contemporary audience may still recall the 2004 remake headlined by Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, directed by Jonathan Demme (a 6/10), which is a proficient political thriller and grafts the timeline from Korean War to Gulf War. Now it is time to revisit the original version directed by John Frankenheimer, the only film I have watched among his prolific filmography before this one actually is his final big screen feature, the romance-thriller mixed-bag REINDEER GAMES (2000, 5/10), Frankenheimer passed away in 2002, and this 1962 black-and-white stunner is no doubt above a few notches over its comparatively problematic remake, substantially due to the Harvey-Lansbury pair's Oscar-worthy performances.

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The Tales of Hoffmann

This is a 4K restoration of directors-duo Powell and Pressburger's cinematic adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's eponymous opera about German Romantic author E.T.A. Hoffmann (Rounseville), attends a ballet performance by a prima ballerina Stella (Shearer), who intends to meet Hoffmann after the show, but the note is intercepted by his nemesis Councillor Lindorf (Helpmann), which leads Hoffmann to get intoxicated in a tavern and triggers his nostalgic recounts of three stories from his past lovers, Olympia (Shearer), Giulietta (Tchérina) and Antonia (Ayars), respectively these three operettas happen in Paris, Venice and an unknown Greek island.

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The Mafia Kills Only in Summer (La Mafia Uccide solo d'Estate)

This is a nationally-acclaimed director debut of Italian's new triple-threat Pif, who directs, co-writes and stars in this satirical comedy, chronicling the turbulent mafia assassinations in Palermo from 1970s to 90s, through the eye of Arturo (played by Bisconti as a young boy and Pif himself as the grownup), who life has been significantly influenced by the local mafia activities, usually accompanied by Pif's smug voiceover, he even self-claims his own birth is thanks to a mafia shootout downstairs of his parents' apartment, although the animated scenes are riddle with biological errors, nevertheless, the jaunty atmosphere is pleasing enough to lure audience into the storytelling.

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Love Is Strange

This Ira Sachs' follow-up of his strained relationship chronicle KEEP THE LIGHTS ON (2012) revolves around a senior gay couple in Manhattan, New York, Ben (Lithgow), an obscure painter and George (Molina), a music teacher in a Catholic school, after gay-marriage has been legalised, they finally tie the knot after 39 years together, their love has been blessed by friends and family, but the segueing repercussions cost George his post due to the obvious prejudice among those religious conservatives, and the unforeseen financial plight forces them to sell the apartment and live with their relatives and friends, yet as none of them have extra rooms for both, so they have to spend the transitional time separately.

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A Londoni Férfi (The Man From London)

Admittedly it is daunting to start watching my very first Béla Tarr's works (with his wife and longtime editor Ágnes Hranitzky credited as the co-director), who has already retreated to a permanent retirement in filmmaking after THE TURIN HORSE (2011), as his oeuvre is mostly notorious for stirring audience's usual viewing habits with long takes exceedingly overstay their length of tolerance, a mixed anticipation and perturbation has overtaken me when I selected his lesser praised 2007 feature as the very first introduction piece, rarely I was in such a state before even embarking on the ritual of watching a film.

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Ex Machina
Ex Machina(2015)

EX MACHINA auspiciously marks the directorial debut from British screenwriter Alex Garland, who is also a novelist, he is the author of THE BEACH, later would become a misfire for Danny Boyle and its star Leonardo DiCaprio in 2000, and after having soaked himself as a screenwriter in Sci-Fi genre pieces like Boyle's SUNSHINE (2007) and Mark Romanek's NEVER LET ME GO (2010), his latest offering is a tantalising cautionary tale about artificial intelligence.

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The King and I

This classic musical extravaganza stars a contrasting pair Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, a British widow Anna sails to Siam to be the governess of King Mongkut's many children and wives in the early 1860s, as the king is dedicative to modernise his country with western civilisation.

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A Most Violent Year

If we presumably equates "violent" to "death", we are destined to be mislead by J.C. Chandor's third feature, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, as we follow our poker-faced protagonist Abel Morales (Isaac), who has experienced a tough year with his oil company business in NYC 1981, negotiate his way with unscrupulous business competitors, a stalwart district DA Lawrence (Oyelowo), we assume in any certain moment he would start a killing spree in the Godfather style. This never happens, since the dogma of Abel's action is that he will never do anything to jeopardise his business, which means he will never act like a gangster, he is not a felon (as he tells Lawrence in the coda), although Chandor manifestly imbues his crime-tale with a solemn layout and vintage colour pattern under the heavy influence of Francis Ford Coppola's gangster school, not to mention Isaac is obviously channelling Al Pacino's Michael Corleone but in a no-violence policy.
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A revisit of Kevin Smith's subversive religious comedy DOGMA, "subversive" may it seems in a story where God is a woman (played by the one-and-only Alanis Morissette, whose voice can shatter anything into fragments, deservingly to be the choice chanteuse during my adolescence); there is a 13th apostle Rufus (Rock) who has been omitted in the Bible simply because of his skin colour; two fallen angles Loki (Damon) and Bartleby (Affleck) find a loophole induced by a new "Buddy Christ" propaganda from Cardinal Glick (Carlin) in New Jersey, they will get the supposed plenary indulgence and re-enter Heaven, until one of them goes berserk becomes a human-killing winged creature. A blasphemy cannot be dodged for sure, but eventually the film appears not as subversive as the synopsis suggests, au fond, Smith simply picks various characters from religious myth and squeeze them into a wacky adventure of fantasy without even badmouthing Catholicism, there should be no hard-feeling (as the opening pointers amusingly noted).

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Force Majeure

In Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund's fourth feature, a nuclear Swedish family takes on a skiing vacation in a luxury resort at the French Alps, Tomas (Kuhnke) and Ebba (Kongsli) with their two kids Harry and Vera, however as the title suggests, Tomas' one instinct reaction during a "force majeure" - an avalanche which turns out to be a false alarm, and his further denial triggers the marital dissonance between them, and eventually puts their marriage through an unanticipated test.

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A classic Stanley Donen's Hollywood big-budget popcorn adventure banks on two leading actors' star power, in the shopworn formula of an innocent guy (middle-age, single and bookish) who is unwittingly involved into some convoluted scheme, and with the aide from a mysterious femme fatale, together they will scotch the sinister plan (whatever it is) in the last second fashion, so crisis will be solved and romance is here to stay.
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One major gimmick of Irish director Lenny Abrahamson's music drama-comedy FRANK is its star Michael Fassbender (the "it" actor presently) will only appear with a giant paper mask containing his head and never reveal himself in the entire film, but spoiler alert! It turns out that Lenny cannot keep the promise and allow Fassbender's sex appeal (his face to be more accurate) to go untapped and be concealed inside that doll head. So in the last ten minutes, when our eccentric titular protagonist Frank (Fassbender) finally reveals himself without his shield to the outside world, a mixed feeling arises, admittedly Fassbender is my favourite actor among his generation, it is a surprise to see his visage (thanks to the deceptive publicity stunt) in the climax scenes of the film, a pathos-exuding music performance of the song I LOVE YOU ALL, written by the composer Stephen Rednecks. However at the same time, a part of me wishes Lenny Abrahamson could have had the guts to let Frank do the scenes with his mask on, keep the eccentricity running until the last drop.

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A double-bill of contemporary Germany's leading director Christian Petzold's most recent films BARBARA and PHOENIX, both are executed with the same team and stars Nina Hoss, Petzold's longtime muse and Ronald Zehrfeld as two leads, punctiliously examine the mentality of German people in the post-WWII era.
PHOENIX sets its story right after the WWII, Hoss is Nelly, a disfigured concentration-camp survivor who has done a facial reconstruction surgery, she decides to look for her husband Johannes (Zehrfeld), whom her friend Lene (Kunzendorf) accuses as a traitor, because it is him, who has sold Nelly out to Nazi in the first place. Nelly tracks him down in a club named "Phoenix" where the former musician Johannes works as a busboy, then comes the pulpy part, Johannes cannot recognise Nelly, his presumed dead wife, yet he offers her an opportunity to half of Nelly's inheritance if she is willing to act as his wife, and pretends that she miraculously returns from the camp so they can claim the inheritance. This premise is a tricky one, in one hand it is really far-fetched and prompts many reasonable questions of Johannes' peculiar behaviour in his plan, how can a man fails to recognise his wife although her face is altered, but I suppose not a lot (especially compared with Pedro Almodóvar's THE SKIN I LIVE IN 2011, 7/10), since Nelly wants the surgery to keep her look instead of changing into a new one. Especially when Nelly shows the exact handwriting of his wife, dubiety has never crossed his mind, not to mention to notice the number on her arm from the death camp or to do a little bit of homework to the uncannily similar impostor; on the other hand, Johannes' careless behaviour may just pinpoint his mindset at then, he refuses to believe Nelly is still alive, he is deeply ashamed of his betrayal and subconsciously he evades to face the music, like Nelly, he is also a soul tormented by war, a commoner's degradation under the extreme times.
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A double-bill of contemporary Germany's leading director Christian Petzold's most recent films BARBARA and PHOENIX, both are executed with the same team and stars Nina Hoss, Petzold's longtime muse and Ronald Zehrfeld as two leads, punctiliously examine the mentality of German people in the post-WWII era.

In BARBARA, the locale is a rural surrounding of 1980s East Germany, Hoss is the titular Barbara, a doctor newly banished to a small hospital due to some unexplained collusion with West Germany, Barbara's frosty bearing means she is not here to make friends, and her condition is sympathising although the hostility and vigilance between her and her colleagues is mutual, but she is also constantly under surveillance from the authority after hours, she even has to endure the humiliation of her body being manually checked each time when they launch a fine-tooth comb in her small unadorned apartment. However Barbara has her own secret, she has a West German lover Jörg (Waschke) who apparently is a rich business man and planning to rescue her from the repressive and authoritarian East Germany, Jörg even comes to visit her frequently and they engage in some uninhibited carnal knowledge.

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Foreign Correspondent

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT is the second film of Hitchcock's one-two punch in 1940, yet its legacy has been mostly eclipsed by the more widely-beloved REBECCA (1940, 8/10), which usurped a BEST PICTURE win in the Oscar games, while the former is also a BEST PICTURE nominee with a total 6 nominations.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

As I gave THE AVENGERS (2012) a 5/10, it is a sad truth that I still haven't reached the rarefied status of completely ignoring those populist "it" movies, like FURIOUS 7 (2015, 6/10), the second assembly of the Avengers is another box-office mammoth of 2015, and this time I have to squeeze in a small packed screening room with an equally small screen in the local cinema here in Cairo, my worst fear towards 3D technique came true, it is disastrously dim-lit, why on earth we can watch a bright trailer on our computer screen yet when comes to the real one, we have to endure this schlocky quality?

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The Secret Garden

What an ethereal child film it is! An adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's titular novel, and craftily constructed by Polish female director Agnieszka Holland with the sublime aids of DP Roger Deakins' transcendent cinematography (including some wondrous time-lapse shots), an equally unearthly score by Zbigniew Presisner, and a spiritually mollifying end-credits song WINTER LIGHT by Linda Ronstadt, THE SECRET GARDEN is a nonesuch in the realm of family movies.

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Saint Laurent

A double bill with Yves Saint Laurent

It is rather unusual that two French biographic films about the prêt-à-porter fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) both came out in the same calendar year, YVES SAINT LAURENT opened in January 2014, directed by actor-turns-director Jalil Lespert, stars a rather unknown Pierre Niney as our protagonist and Guillaume Gallienne (the triple threat of 2014 CÉSAR AWARDS winner ME, MYSELF AND MUM 2013, 7/10) as his business partner and life companion Pierre Bergé. While Bertrand Bonello's more ambitious and high-profile SAINT LAURENT debuted in Cannes last year, with Gaspard Ulliel and Jérémie Renier take the central roles as Yves and Pierre.

They are on a collision course in this year's CÉSAR AWARDS, SL leads with 10 nominations including BEST PICTURE and BEST DIRECTOR, and YSL has 7 nominations all in acting and technique branches, eventually SL ends up with a sole win for BEST COSTUME DESIGN and Niney trounces Ulliel for the much coveted BEST LEADING ACTOR honour (good-looking is also a stumbling block in winning recognitions from your peers, and it is a double-standard between male and female). The latter must have a strong heart to accept defeat to an peer actor who plays the same character in another movie, one sure thing is that he doesn't invest less for the role than Niney, and in my book, Ulliel overshadows Niney in emulating Yves' unique utterance and detailed mannerism, this could really hurt one's confidence and ego in this throat-cutting showbiz.

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Barefoot in the Park

Another film adaptation of Neil Simon's play with the same name, directed by his frequent collaborator, the stage and film directer Gene Saks, who has recently passed away at the age of 93. It pairs Fonda and Redford as a couple of newlyweds Corie and Paul, whose marriage is hanging on a thread when they find out their personalities are poles apart.

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Tau ban no hoi (Boat People)

In celebration of Ann Hui's record-breaking 5th win of BEST DIRECTOR in HONG KONG FILM AWARDS for her epic THE GOLDEN ERA (2014), which is also the eventual recipient of BEST PICTURE, it is an opportune time to track back her first win at the age of 35 for her fourth feature BOAT PEOPLE, which has established her as a pioneer in the New Wave movement of Hong Kong Cinema.
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Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli)

The Parondi family comes from a southern Italian village, after its patriarch passes away, the mother Rosaria (Paxinou) decides to bring her other four sons Simone (Salvatori), Rocco (Delon), Ciro (Cartier) and the underage Luca (Vidolazzi) to seek refuge with her eldest son Vincenzo (Focás) in Milan. Their unexpected arrival instantly enkindles a wrangle with the family of Ginetta (Cardinale), Vincenzo's fiancée. In the opening gambit, Visconti manifests how he is well-versed in orchestrating a huge cast simultaneously and effectively expediting the scenes from a festive get-together to a classic Italian verbal battle with utter precision.

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The Skeleton Twins

In viewing of its title, this dark comedy features SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumni Hader and Wigg doesn't look like a gag-packed farce as one may preconceive, THE SKELETON TWINS is director Craig Johnson's second film, it became a Sundance darling in 2014, and surges onto the top-tier of USA's indie output last year, so I am tempted to check whether or not it deserves the merits.
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Song Of The Sea

Five years after his Oscar-nominated feature debut THE SECRET OF KELLS (2009), which unfortunately I've yet to watch, the Irish filmmaker Tomm Moore's second film SONG OF THE SEA continues to capitalise on the ancient mythology with the traditional hand-drawn animation technique, and again becomes a dark horse on this year's Oscar race of BEST ANIMATION PICTURE.
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The Rose Tattoo

This is the screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams' namesake play which opened on Broadway in 1951, originally is tailor-made for Magnani, but she rejected it then due to her inadequate English expertise; four years later, she shoulders on this film version helmed by theatrical old hand Daniel Mann, which substantially lives up to everyone's expectation and is crowned as BEST LEADING ACTRESS in the Oscar competition, the film also earns two other wins for BEST ART DIRECTION and BEST BLACK & WHITE CINEMATOGRAPHY for the legendary Chinese-American cinematographer James Wong Howe out of a total 8 nominations.

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Evil Angels (A Cry in the Dark)

Best remembered by cinephiles as the film won Meryl Streep a Cannes BEST ACTRESS trophy and is among one of her 19 Oscar-nominated performances, A CRY IN THE DARK is a faithful adaptation of a sensational true story in Australia, about Lindy Chamberlain (Streep), a mother of three, and her parson husband Michael (Neill), the former is accused of murdering her newborn baby daughter during a camping trip in Ayers Rock in 1980, while she claims the baby is snatched by a dingo, and the latter is charged as an accessory. Now this case is already cleared as their convictions have been overturned in 1988 when new key evidence emerges.
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Jacquot de Nantes

My second Varda's entry (after CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 1962, 7/10) is her cinematic eulogy to her late husband, the filmmaker Jacques Demy (1931-1990) after 28 years of marriage, who passed away one year before the film's release, recounts Demy's life from childhood to adolescence in Nantes, re-enacts mostly sketchy episodes of that time from Demy's memoir, particularly during the Occupied France in WWII and Jacquot (Jacques' nickname) 's ever-growing passion towards cinema.
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Nostalgia of the original PADDINGTON BEAR series and the beloved novel by Michael Bond aside, Paul King's PADDINGTON is a trademark Christmas offering from UK, a love letter to London and everything is tailor-made to not cross the borderline of being kids-friendly, but for adult audience who doesn't grow up with the said bear, the film is generically predictable (the only exception belongs to the yardstick that Londoners never even raise their eyebrows to see a talking bear in front of them) and one might feel a bit disappointed that it couldn't be more daring or ingenious considering its all-too-cute art productions which resemble lightweight Wes Anderson artworks and a wonderfully anthropomorphic CGI bear named Paddington (voiced by Whishaw).
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Stella Dallas

STELLA DALLAS is a King Vidor's premium melodrama in 1937, starring Barbara Stanwyck as the titular heroine, a working-class daughter metamorphoses from a shrewd social climber to a self-sacrificing single mother who will endure a complete severance of her beloved daughter Laurel (Shirley), so as to secure the latter a suitable social background with the wealthy family of her ex-husband, Laurel's father Stephen (Boles), as a guarantee to marry a rich kid Laurel loves. This synopsis might have an air of a wilful malapropos against our free love modern viewpoint and is fairly overdone as a propaganda for a mother's unconditional but one-sided love.

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The Wolverine

Generally speaking, X-MEN series is my favourite among the superhero universe, yet the distant memory of Gavin Hood's X-MEN ORIGINS:WOLVERINE (2009, 7/10) has faded into blurry fragments, this time, Hugh Jackson's Logan (who is in top form in his Wolverine physique) embarks on an exotic journey in Japan, all by himself (with Jean haunting him all along to allure him into discard his immortality), to say a farewell to an old friend Yashida (Yahmamouchi) in his dying bed, whom in the opening sequences, Logan saves during the Nagasaki bombing, only to discover there is a sinister scheme awaits.

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LABYRINTH is Jim Benson's follow-up of the grotesquely eye-opening puppet enterprise THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982, 7/10), and also his final painstaking work, where he pairs a cherubic Jennifer Connelly and a trend-setting David Bowie (look at his 80s coiffure!) as human actors with all his accomplished puppets, to present a spellbinding fairytale in a labyrinth at the heart of a Goblin kingdom. It was a disastrous commercial failure upon its release, but time has been pretty generous to it and now it has achieved the cult status and even a possible sequel has been hatched for many years.

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Billy Casper (Bradley) is a schoolboy, around 14 or so, his visage looks awfully older than his real age and his scrawny skeleton makes him smaller among his schoolmates, he lived in a coal mine town of England, his father is absent, his mother (Perrie) is negligent and his worst nightmare is his bigger brother, Jud (Fletcher) who cannot leave him in peace even in sleep because they have to squeeze in the same bed. Billy has to moonlight as a paperboy every morning to supplement household expenses before going to the Protestant school, where he constantly succumbs to the receiving end of the browbeating from his peers, or a tyrannic football coach (Glover), or a diatribe from the pontifical headmaster (Bowes) and his cane, even so, school is better than working in the dangerous pit where Jud currently works. Subconsciously Billy is rebellious to the adulthood whereas there is no hope in his bleak future (hard-hitting political philosophy is Ken Loach's unwavering trademark which can already be pungently detected in his second feature-length).

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Furious 7
Furious 7(2015)

An Easter weekend cinema-going of this topical car-chasing no brainer, a franchise has already exceedingly overstayed its shelf-life, reaches an unforeseen acme catalysed by the tragic loss of its co-leading man Paul Walker last year (ironically in a car crash, again a bloody testimony of "movies are deceitful", considering in this latest offering, no lack of crashes, but not even a minor concussion incurred or whatsoever.). After the series best FAST FIVE (2011, 7/10) and a degenerative FAST AND FURIOUS 6 (2013, 6/10), this time, the director chair has been delegated to James Wan, the master-hand behind SAW & INSIDIOUS horror trademarks, it is a sure-thing its box office will explode and achieve another series-high, but reckoning a story and cast overhaul is inevitable for its next move, let us take it as a sincere eulogy not only to Paul but the franchise itself.

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Born Yesterday

1950 appears to be a remarkable year for leading actress as far as its Oscar race is concerned, among the nominees are - the most rip-roaring comeback from the silent star Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BLVD. (1950, 9/10), the juggernaut presence of Bette Davis and the supreme Anne Baxter in the iconic ALL ABOUT EVE (1950, 9/10), while I have yet to see Eleanor Parker in CAGED (1950), but the eventual winner is Judy Holliday from George Cukor's chamber piece, who reprises her classic role on the silver screen from Garson Kanin's play. After watching it, notwithstanding that the story doesn't stand the test of time for its conspicuous poetic license to romanticise the tale, by comparison Lewis Gilbert's EDUCATING RITA (1983, 7/10) has been more tellingly realistic, Holliday's performance is deservingly a sensation to behold (the golden-age charisma is certainly unparalleled and ravishing for my taste), I rank her the runner-up (just below Swanson) of the year so far.

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Cousin, Cousine

Retrospectively speaking, this French comedy?s dark horse success mainly can be attributed to the fact that it opportunely corresponds with the sex liberation trend in the 1970s, not just a commercial hit in its homeland, it also has conquered the audience in North America, entering Oscar's BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM race, and most absurdly, it even procures two other nominations BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, and BEST LEADING ACTRESS for Barrault. Why it is absurd? Simply because it is one of those out-of-the-blue nominations in Oscar?s history which don?t make any sense to even be encompassed as the fillers among the year?s best.

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Bai ri yan huo (Black Coal, Thin Ice)

This 2014 Golden Berlin Bear winner (with a rare second Silver Berlin Bear award of BEST ACTOR for Fan Liao) is Chinese director Yi'nan Diao's third feature, and his first to be shown in cinemas and harvested over one hundred million RMB, roughly equivalent to 16 million dollars, thanks to the international accolades it received. Its original title can be translated verbatim as "White Day Fireworks", it is the name of a nightclub which would be revealed as a crucial thread to a murder case, furthermore Diao arranges a literal daytime firework show to climax the film in the coda, meanwhile, its official english title: Black Coal, Thin Ice, betrays the locations which relation all the murder cases during a five-year span.

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A silent film of British director Anthony Asquith, recently has been restored by BFI, it is his second feature made at the age of 26, and he would later bring us many important play-adaptation classics like PYGMALION (1938), THE BROWNING VERSION (1951) and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (1952), although UNDERGROUND is a creation out of his own wit, this incipient piece cogently concretises his astonishing cinematic aesthetics, particularly Stanley Rodwell's majestically composed cinematography and the slick final action stunts.

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Into the Woods

As a much anticipated movie adaption of a famed broadway musical, INTO THE WOODS struts in its "dark treatment" of the classical fairytales, namely: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk, and panders to a more adult-leaning demography. As a matter of fact, it turns out to be really dark, but only because the happenings occur inside the ill-lit woods most of the time, as to the story itself (or maybe pregnancy is a bit too un-fairytale-sy and killing off a main character is a bold move), the noted outlandish elements are conveniently compromised by its PG rating, a well-expectedly avaricious manoeuvre from the money-seeking corporate to cash in from as many viewers as possible at the expense of the project's artistic essence. Altogether, Rob Marshall's newest star-studded musical is a ragtag mess fails to connect with audience who are not the devotees of its theatrical archetype.

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Tom at the Farm

To follow the chronic order, I decide to watch this film before Dolan's latest MOMMY (2014), which has just freshly arrived. TOM AT THE FARM is Canadian prodigy and Cannes darling Xavier Dolan's fourth film, adapted from Michel Marc Bouchard's play, this marks the first time he is not the sole writer for his works, it is also a veer of style for him, delves into the murky suspense and violence of a psychological thriller, and notably, in its highly strained chasing-in-the-forest incident near the coda, it conspicuously recalls another exceptional gay-themed thriller Alain Guiraudie's STRANGER BY THE LAKE (2013, 8/10) of the same year, but these two films end with two completely contrasting options for our protagonists who both face irresistible sexual attraction from the sort who is too dangerous for their own good.
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Kenneth Branagh's revamped Disney fairytale CINDERELLA is the first movie I watch from 2015. A faithful adaptation of the household fable and an eye-catching costume/production pageant. While two leads Lily James (from DOWNTON ABBEY, where also outputs McShera, who plays Drisella, one of Cinderella's step-sister) and Richard Madden (from GAME OF THRONES, with his fellow alumnus Anozie, as his loyal Captain) are relatively unknown as for cinema-goers, Cate Blanchett singlehandedly upstages everyone as Cinderella's wicked stepmother without tampering the original gusto.
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New York, New York

Even NEW YORK, NEW YORK is Scorsese's notorious box-office snafu, it is still branded with his undeniable virtuosity of camera compositions and sleek cinematography which can feasibly best most of the films made by his peers in retrospective, the version I watch is a 163-minute re-issue in 1981, it is a veritable ode to the golden era of jazz standards.

Along with a chronic but episodic story-telling, our two leads are Francine Evans (Minnelli) and Jimmy Doyle (De Niro), she is a promising lounge singer while he is a saxophone player and they first meet in a party on V-J Day where Jimmy's brazen flirting meets with Francine's feckless cold-shoulder, it is ever a stereotyped gambit to anticipate their romance blossoming although the ill-feeling exuded from a rakish scoundrel ever since Jimmy's very first appearance overtly portends that they' re a misfit match. A more problematic hiccup is Scorsese's unmethodical narrative strategy (with most dialogue impromptu), which meshes with random sappy moments, fails to elucidate what really goes wrong in their rocky relationship, superficially it is just an tiresome story of a poor girl falls for a giant pain-in-the-neck, and Scorsese and his screenwriters merely stick to this surface, as if all they want from viewers is to generate enormous sympathy for Francine and give Jimmy a free pass since he is so charmingly irresistible despite of his horrendous personality. If it has failed to do that in 1977, roughly forty years later, it is still a failure in this regard.

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Red Desert
Red Desert(1964)

have hitherto watched 7 and ? of Antonioni's films, the ? is referred to EROS (2004, 6/10), so I think I may entitle to attest that it does take time to appreciate his oeuvre and subdue the often wayward elusiveness in his storytelling.

RED DESERT is prominent because it is Antonioni's first colour feature, and remarkably the first one has already been able to stun the world with its unique palette aesthetics, with "Red" in the title, one might assume the film would be a torrid emotional roller-coaster with desire and energy, but what the film actually presents is the consuming mental malady in the budding industrialism, set in Ravenna, our protagonist is Giuliana (Antonioni's regular muse Vitti), a married woman with a proclivity of mental unstableness due to an accident which never be disclosed to viewers. Her husband Ugo (Chionetti) is the manager of a petrol-chemical plant, so she often wanders in the drab surroundings with her son (Bartoleschi).
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Kingsman: The Secret Service

A weekend cinema-outing of this slick UK spy actioner which is a surprisingly excellent revamped Bond-esque espionage genre fare inundated with polished set pieces and beguiling plot twist albeit the whole movie is ground in the same old saving-the-world-from-a-supervillain mode.

Director Matthew Vaughn has been constantly on my radar as one of my favourite genius in commercial filmmaking, I have watched all his previous four features, from LAKE CAKE (2004, 6/10), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011, 7/10), to my absolute guilty-pleasure treasures STARDUST (2007, 9/10) and KICK-ASS (2010, 9/10). His latest is by all means a thoroughly engaging adventure with unconventional violence and visual gags, which all delightfully surpass viewer's expectation.
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Two for the Road

TWO FOR THE ROAD is an authentic road movie, with opening credits of miscellaneous traffic signs bode the marital turbulence of a couple, the architect Mark Wallace (Finney) and his wife Joanna (Hepburn), who has been married for twelve years, and through the haphazard narrative jump-cuts, as the title suggests, the film presents them in a continuously mobile fashion, mostly in flashbacks, whether they are hitchhiking, carpooling with another married couple (including a fast-forwarding sight-seeing in Chantilly), or later they can afford to travel on their own, their trips in the magnificent European land evokes an evident whiff of lyricism intermingled with their personal romances and crises.

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Mr. Turner
Mr. Turner(2014)

Mike Leigh's newest endeavour is a two-and-a-half hours long biographic film about British painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), a watercolour landscape painting maestro, the film chronically narrates the last quarter of Turner's life, stars Leigh's longtime teammate Timothy Spall in an once-in-a-blue-moon leading role which won him BEST ACTOR in Cannes last year.

Unequivocally this film is second to none if it can be crowned as the most beautiful film of 2014, artistically enthralling thanks to the utterly breathtaking cinematography of DP Dick Pope, which concisely tallies with Turner's own persistent study on light and colour, and viewers can get a peek of his relentless thirst from the magnet experiment conducted by Ms. Somerville (a brilliant cameo by Lesley Manville), or later his piqued interest of the daguerreotype technique, mocks every painter would take a camera with him; also his valour as a true artist, dares a face-to-face encounter with a rough tempest on the sea, just to observe its colour. And the most memorable one is when Leigh and Spall re-enact the action of Turner purposefully adding a wanton brush of red on his own work, instead of blemishing a masterpiece, he turns it into a wonder by his master stroke which stuns all his fellow artists in the academy.

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Wild Tales
Wild Tales(2015)

With Pedro Almodóvar's name credited manifestly as one of the producers, viewers will not be too surprised that this portmanteau film from Argentinian director/writer Damián Szifrón is ripe with Almodóvaresque touch - six short, surreal, dark comedies, (most of them are) deeply rooted in the injustice presented in the current Argentinian society (however, it can be feasibly comprehended elsewhere since the situations are all the same), with a recurrent theme of vengeance flows through all of its components, as the pre-credit prologue named "Pasternak" glaringly sets the tone from an all-inclusive reprisal from an unknown man towards every single person who mistreats him in his life, it is absurdly implausible to effectuate such a scheme (too many variations are involved), but as the opening gambit and the shortest one, it effectively kick-starts the film with an offbeat grin beckons an unconventional wild-ride sinisterly awaits the audience, also it tells us revenge has no mercy at all.
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A Disney's vintage live action mounted with magnificent Technicolor treatment, running more than 2 hours, POLLYANNA is a life-affirming fairytale directed by old-hand writer David Swift as his feature debut, while accidental tragedy sweeps under its carpet.

A young girl named Pollyanna (Mills), who has lost her parents and is adopted by her aunt Polly (Wyman) in Harrington's Town, where she is not just a prim wealthy matriarch, but also the mighty decision-maker of the whole town, yes, she is the sole heiress of Harrington family. So up from the mayor Karl (Crisp), the minister Paul Ford (Malden), down to her house staff, assistant Nancy (Olson), cook Tillie (Shaw) and maid Angelica (Canfield), everyone is either intimidated by her supremacy or surrendered to the vested interest involved.
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The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her

The sadness of being an incorrigible completist, I have to finish all these three films before writing my review, Ned Benson's ambitious feature-length debut is a post-trauma story of a young couple Conor (McAvoy) and Eleanor (Chastain) in New York after losing their child in an unspecified accident, HIM centres on Conor and HER centres on Eleanor in the same time period, then interweaves these two versions together, there arrives THEM, one can get an overall view of their paralleled life. So basically, I have watched the same movie twice, and certain scenes three times where the path of Conor and Eleanor converges.

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The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

The sadness of being an incorrigible completist, I have to finish all these three films before writing my review, Ned Benson's ambitious feature-length debut is a post-trauma story of a young couple Conor (McAvoy) and Eleanor (Chastain) in New York after losing their child in an unspecified accident, HIM centres on Conor and HER centres on Eleanor in the same time period, then interweaves these two versions together, there arrives THEM, one can get an overall view of their paralleled life. So basically, I have watched the same movie twice, and certain scenes three times where the path of Conor and Eleanor converges.

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Eat Drink Man Woman (Yin shi nan nu)

Ang Lee's third feature film and the final chapter of his "family trilogy" in Taiwan before launching an outstanding career in Hollywood, after his debut PUSHING HAND aka. ?? (1992) and THE WEDDING BANQUET aka. ?? (1993, 9/10), EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN is consummately charming, and profoundly endearing, plus it is an unabashed food porn of Chinese cuisine.

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Still Alice
Still Alice(2015)

Rather surprisingly I found out this little film is opened in Cairo this weekend, just after Moore's Oscar triumph, as happiness often befalls unexpectedly, one year ago, I would never imagine this could happen to my favourite actress, at an age considered as the dead-end for most actress, she manages to pull off a such a landslide victory for late bloomers, more unbelievable is that it is from such a low-key director-team Glatzer and Westmoreland, whose previous Errol Flynn biopic THE LAST OF ROBIN HOOD (2013) is a total fiasco.

Life is always unfair, in BIRDMAN (2014, 8/10), the has-been actor Riggan Thomson motives himself with a hip mantra "sixty is the new thirty", but not for for Dr. Alice Howland (Moore), a linguistic professor at Columbia University, who has just passed her 50-year-old birthday, her life will slump into the worst scenario due to the early onset Alzheimer's disease. Her previous perfect life, with a loving husband John (Baldwin), three grown-up children with the forthcoming twins from her eldest daughter Anna (Bosworth), plus a plum profession, will all be predestined to plunge into a void.

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Clouds of Sils Maria

From its synopsis Olivier Assayas' latest drama seems like an European amalgam of David Cronenberg's MAPS TO THE STARS (2014, 7/10) and the newly Oscar champ BIRDMAN (2014, 8/10). Juliette Binoche plays a famous actress Maria Enders in her mid-40s, so in another word, she plays herself, she even grouses about shooting in front of the green screen (so presumably we will not see her in sequel of GODZILLA 2014, 6/10), who is en route to accept an award on behalf of playwright and director Wilhelm Melchior - who firstly discovered her in his play MALOJA SNAKE when she was 18, and then starred her in a film version which kick-started her later movie career - with her assistant Valentine (Stewart) on a train to Zurich where she receives the news Melchior just committed suicide due to terminal illness.
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The Go-Between

An elaborate UK period costume drama from Joseph Losey, the Palme d'Or winner of 1971 and scripted by Harold Pinter (their third collaboration after THE SERVANT 1963, 8/10 and ACCIDENT 1967), which also bookended the honeymoon period between them, from L.P. Hartley's eponymous novel which begins with "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there". The central narrative is set in 1900, a 12-soon-to-be-13Leo (Guard) stays as a guest with the wealthy family of his schoolmate Marcus (Gibson) in rural Norfolk during a torrid summer, and soon becomes a go-between and delivers letters between Marcus' upscale sister Marian (Christe) and her secret inamorato Ted Burgess (Bates), a tenant farmer.

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Another this year's Oscar hopeful right before the Oscar night (although up to this moment, it is more likely to be an also-ran in all its 5 nominated categories), Bennett Miller tackles another sport after MONEYBALL (2011, 6/10), his similarly-fated Oscar players. This time it is about wrestling,FOXCATCHER recounts the infamous USA murder case of DavidSchultz (Ruffalo), an Olympic wrestling champion, shot dead by the billionaire John Du Pont (Carell with a fake nose and aged make-up), who started the Team Foxcatcher to sponsor and train national wrestling team for the Olympics, where David was the assistant coach of the team.

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Tokyo Story (Tôkyô monogatari)

The omission of Ozu's oeuvre is definitely an unerring embarrassment for any movie aficionado, thankfully TOKYO STORY comes to my rescue, presumably Ozu's most renowned work, tellingly it merits all kudos it gets, gracefully scrutinising the post-WWII mental disposition of Japanese people, and quietly tearjerking in eliciting recollections and rumination between parents and their children. Parenthood is not for everyone, but we all have parents, we forever hold a sense of regret towards them, especially in the oriental culture, filial piety is the foremost virtue to measure an individual's worth, at least viewed by other family members.
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Few might expect an indie drama about a dysfunctional mentor-student relationship about jazz-drum can be such a thrilling adrenaline drive, WHIPLASH, which not only proudly joins the elite top 8 in the upcoming Oscar BEST PICTURE nominees, but is also counted as a major contender in for a harvest (with J.K. Simmons undisputedly has BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR in his bag). It is also hard to imagine this is only young director Damien Chazelle's second feature, after his less-seen debut GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH (2009), WHIPLASH is such a full-grown piece of gem, with the slithering camera movement, a plethora of intensive close-ups and snappy editing, a buzzy audio surrounding and the irresistible jazzy soundtrack, it engages us with a daunting study of the pursuit of being the greatest and a spellbinding and unblemished mental orgasm in its fierce solo-drum finale.

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The Theory of Everything

Personally I have been suffering from a certain degree of biopic fatigue, those annual staples blatantly pandering to academy recognition are often dazzling with Oscar-hankering performances, but its narrative structure and skill usually are all laboriously conventional and monotonous. James Marsh's THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is the quintessential archetype of this sort and it is going to give Eddie Redmayne the coveted Oscar for such a taxing mission to imitate Stephen Hawking, the still alive-and-kicking bigwig cosmologist. However, Marsh conducts the film with a fluid pace and it wondrously invigorated by its technical crew, particularly Jóhann Jóhannsson's engrossing soundtrack and the ever-pervasive subdued light from lighting department.

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John Carpenter's STARMAN is a sympathetic star-crossed romance between an alien aka. Starman (Bridges) and an earth woman Jenny (Allen), a rare item in his otherwise horror and action packed works, it is my second film from him, after the disappointingly topsy-turvy BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, 5/10).

First of all, it is a cruel joke on our earthlings, we set off a welcome message into the outer space, and some unspecified highly-intellegent species responses by sending an explorer to our planet, however, the first thing humans do is shooting the vehicles down, then hunting down the e.t. in order to put him on the operation table for dissection. But don't worry, as annoying as the authoritarian NSA chief and the military ostentation and extravagance, things will not descend to that ground. Jenny is recently widowed and still overindulges in the then-sweet-but-now-tormenting memories of his dead husband Scott, so the intrusion of Starman who regenerates himself into a human form of Scott through his hair kept in Jenny's photo album actually gives an impossible chance for Jenny to fall in love with Scott again, thus despite the initial terror to witness the metamorphosis of an unearthly creature turning into Scott, Jenny accepts him almost instantly as subconsciously she knows that her dream comes true in a supernatural version. The pair drives across the country to reach the picking-up location in Arizona, where a mothership will take Starman back as it has planned.

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The Thief of Paris (Le Voleur)

THE THIEF OF PARIS certainly is not Louis Malle's most illustrious work, pales in comparison with classics like ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1958, 8/10), THE FIRE WITHIN (1963, 9/10), LACOMBE, LUCIEN (1974, 8/10), or even his Hollywood legacies as ATLANTIC CITY (1980, 7/10) and VANYA ON 42ND STREET (1994, 7/10), but it might be his brightest and the most nihilistic.
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Finally I can get around to watch several current Oscar contenders before this year's ceremony arriving in mere two weeks. BIRDMAN is the most intriguing one, it might give Alejandro González Iñárritu the prestige which his fellow Mexican compatriot Alfonso Cuarón has received one year earlier for GRAVITY (2013, 9/10), simply because the film is the another formidable labour-of-love with a paradigm-shifting cinematographic endeavour, not a coincidence, the two films share the same DP Emmanuel Lubezki, not even detractors can deny BIRDMAN's spurious one-long-take gimmick is a wonder to witness, sometimes viewers are so much so that being overpowered by the slithering camera movements in the masterly spatial structures and even overlook the proceedings on screen, so, a re-watch is highly recommended.
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Frances Ha
Frances Ha(2013)

My second film of the NYC indie director Noah Baumbach, after his much-acclaimed indie darkhorse THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005, 9/10), although his muse has shifted from Jennifer Jason Leigh to the new indie-hotshot Greta Gerwig now, who stars as the titular protagonist and is the co-writer of this film.

Shot entirely in Black & White (or more specifically, it is digitally shot first and then transmuted into monochrome to discharge a feeling of nostalgia), the opening montages snappily show audiences the intimate friendship between Frances Ha (Gerwig), a 27-year-old amateur dancer in NYC, and her best friend Sophie (Sumner), and they have been inseparable since college and share an apartment as well. Ten minutes later, Frances flippantly breaks up with her boyfriend Dan (Esper) simply because she cannot accept Dan's proposal of living together in his place as she still prefers to live with Sophie.

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Time After Time

A fiction adventure of the Victorian writer H.G. Wells (McDowell), who time-travels to San Francisco in 1979 to capture the infamous Jack the Ripper aka. Dr. Stevenson (Warner), who uses Wells' newly-invented time machine to escape and keep slaughtering women in the city, meanwhile he gets hooked on a local bank clerk, a modern woman Amy Robbins (Steenburgen), whose life comes under threat during the cat-and-mouse chase, Wells has to rescue her and settles the old scores with Stevenson.

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PRIDE is an uplifting UK dramedy revamps the postures of various people in the actual events of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support Miners) movement in the summer of 1984, but it overtly dodges the over-used "based on a true story" troupe, and artistically gives the story some polishing in terms of some morale boost.

Joe (MacKay) is a young student, and being the surrogate for audience, he firstly engages in the 1984 London gay parade with wide-eyed novelty and closeted reluctance, and half-heartedly he becomes a founding member of new-coined LGSM group, lead by an avid 24-year-old activist Mark (Schnetzer). The film starts its narrative quite flamboyantly in the gay parade and quickly steers onto the thorny issue, to raise money for the UK miners who are under the same predicament where LGBT minority is, the mineworkers' union starts a strike would last for more than one year.
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Two Days, One Night

Against their usual star-eschewing policy (although Cécile De France in THE KID WITH A BIKE 2011, 8/10, is quite a bankable name, or at least in her motherland Belgium), Dardenne brothers has embraced one of the most internationally acclaimed and stylish francophone film star presently, Marion Cotillard, to their latest work, strips out all her outer glamour to Sandra, a working class cosmetics-free mother of two children, who has just recovered from a spell of depression, and has to fight for her job through a thorny vote imposed on her other 16 co-workers by their capitalistic superior, they can either vote for a 1000 euro bonus each person or keeping Sandra in the company. After a rigged vote, 13 to 3 for the bonus, Sandra and her friend Juliette (Salée) manage to a re-vote on Monday, so Sandra has a weekend to visit her colleges one by one, tries to change their mind and fix her future.

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The synopsis of Sydney Pollack's drag comedy TOOTSIE can be construed as follows: a struggling thespian/acting coach Michael Dorsey (Huffman) cross-dresses as a woman Dorothy Michaels to secure a role in a popular daytime soapie, and scoops up massive acclamation as a single, middle-aged role model who disseminate fresh air of women being independent and self-confident, which profoundly inspires her fellow actress Julie (Lange), whom Michael has a huge crush on.

If one has yet watched the film, the synopsis might get on someone's nerves, how on earth a man at the end of his tether can so easily thrive in the same line of business as soon as he acts in the opposite sex? What is more, he even becomes some sort of the guiding light to the dismissive gender while sporting a hard-on under his dress, it could only be a straight guy's pipe-dream with a penchant for sexism and male chauvinism, the movie could have been a total train wreck under a lesser brain.

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My words may be redundant since Fritz Lang's unanimously accepted classic doesn't need any more empty plaudits, the fact that in his very first sound film he has already accomplished it with such unparalleled dexterity is utterly astonishing, but still I need to vent my thoughts after watching its restored 109-minutes version for the first time ever.

The scenario is quite gruesome, it is a crime-drama about a serial child (girl specifically) killer Hans Beckert (Lorre), who engenders a city-wide panic in Berlin when he commits another crime and still remains at large with no clear identity. The police department is under severe pressure to dig him out but its productivity is mainly hampered by the paranoia and massive false information from the terror-stricken hoi polloi, meanwhile, local underworld business is also critically undermined by policemen's all-too-frequent ferreting and investigations, so the criminal bosses are also in line with the fervent intent to unearth the despicable murderer.
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Ilo Ilo
Ilo Ilo(2014)

This flyweight Singaporean film is the surprising winner of Golden Horse Award in 2013, snatches 4 awards including BEST FILM honour from its stiff competitors, Johnny To's DRUG WAR (2012), Zhangke Jia's A TOUCH OF SIN (2013), Ming-liang Tsai's STRAY DOGS (2013) and the frontrunner Kar Wai Wong's THE GRANDMASTER (2013, 8/10). First-timer director Anthony Chen wins BEST NEW DIRECTOR and ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, while Yann Yann Yeo stands out in BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS race.
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La Cage aux Folles

An riotous French chamber farce, I have already watched LA CAGE AUX FOLLES II (1980, 7/10), now finally come across the original one which would spawn a Hollywood remake THE BIRDCAGE (1996) by Mike Nichols and stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane reprise the iconic couple Renato and Albin (Tognazzi and Serrault). It had remained No.1 foreign film in USA box-office for years and nominated for 3 Oscars (BEST DIRECTOR, SCREEN PLAY and COSTUME DESIGN).
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A cinematic revamping of the notorious Leopold-Loeb murder case in 1924, which is also the source material for Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE (1948, 8/10), well-known for its specious "entirely-one-long-shot" conceit. This polished Black & White version is directed by a lesser-known Richard Fleischer, a prolific studio journeyman, and the final product is a compelling character study despite the fact that it strikes a false note in its climatic courtroom finale.

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Man on the Moon

I enter the film while being literally oblivious of who is Andy Kaufman, as far as I know, the film is mostly famed because it hitherto has been Jim Carrey's most Oscar-worthy performance, yet being blatantly snubbed again after his drama venture in Peter Weir's THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998, 8/10).

So in my case, the film is a dedicative portrait of an eccentric entertainer whose ideology of performance is all about entertaining himself and treat his audience as a receptacle of his sensational idiosyncrasy and excruciatingly manipulative fabrications disguised as parody or mockery. Yet, during his short life-span (Andy passed away in 1984 at the age of 35), this methodology makes him a unique figure in the canvas of American comedians (although he would never condescend himself as a "comedian").
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American Sniper

Amid its unanticipated parade into this year's Oscar race (6 nominations including BEST PICTURE and BEST LEADING ACTOR) as an extremely late contender, and more astonishingly, its domestic box-office outburst since last week, Mr. Eastwood's biography of Chris Kyle, the most prolific Navy SEAL sniper, arrives to the fore in Egypt.

The film stirs a massive controversy in the states albeit it has achieved a career peak for the octogenarian film legend, as there is a pungent odour of jingoism permeating the narrative, particularly centres on its defamatory depiction of Muslin race in the Iraqi war zone, what is exacerbating is that under the current international circumstances, it doesn't help to dissipate the acute prejudice in the stateside, pitifully, Eastwood could not been more open-minded in his well-executed anti-war drama.

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Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

A cinema-going in Shanghai with my cousin, who handpicks this comedy sequel for solace because she has freshly gotten out of a tormenting tug-of-war between her parents and her boyfriend, so I dare not to differ.

A five-year gap between the third venture and its predecessor NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN (2009, 5/10) not-so-subtly signifies Twentieth Century Fox's confidence of this money-grubbing family fare is not too strong, or maybe star Ben Stiller's ballooning cheque is too taxing to meet, anyway, its domestic box-office has been considered a minor misfire ($108 millions income Vs. $127 millions budget after 5 weeks), which may suggest that 3 is always a perfect number for a franchise's retirement.

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It was supposedly a comeback vehicle for Grace Kelly, instead it became Tippi Hedren's follow-up after her star-turning debut in THE BIRDS (1963), MARNIE is unwieldily posited as a less influential psychiatric drama amidst Hitchcock's copious oeuvre.

Marnie (Hedren). an incorrigible thief and a gorgeous blonde, she applies for the secretary in a firm, then patiently awaits an opportunity to acquire the key to the room where safe is situated and the combination of safe codes, steals the cash and absconds. Thus as a thief, Marnie is a lone she-wolf, self-reliant, cannot tolerate to be handled by man, but as we can easily forecast, it is not a very promising vocation for her since her larcenous skill is rather rudimentary and unsustainable in a long run. Moreover, she is entrenched in her own past trauma, descends into a damsel-in-distress, waiting to be rescued by an omnipotent man, a young and wealthy entrepreneur-cum-widower Mark Rutland (Connery), whose company she is currently working in, after being meshed into a hasty marriage, Marnie's frigidity takes its toll and prompts Mark to scrutinise into Marnie's troubled memory of her childhood and the eccentric relation between Marnie and her mother Bernice (Latham).

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Pauline At The Beach

Released in 1983, PAULINE AT THE BEACH is the third picture of Rohmer's "Comedies and Proverbs" series (6 in total, started with THE AVIATOR'S WIFE 1981, 8/10). The titular Pauline (Langlet) is attended by her elder cousin Marion (Dombasle), to stay in their family's vacation home on the north-western coast of France. They are two gorgeous beauties with gaping disparity, Pauline is a 15-year-old teenager, has a darker bob cut while Marion is a model-shaped blonde and just sets herself free from a failed marriage.
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Christiane F
Christiane F(1981)

A movie blind date with CHRISTIANE F., a cautionary tale about the decadence of a 14-year-old girl Christiane's heroin addiction, based on the autobiographical recount from Christiane Felscherinow, probes into the drug scene in West Germany in 1970s.

As Christiane (Brunckhorst) acclaims "I can't take this shit anymore!", right after another fellow junkie died of overdose near the 3/4 of the film, the wake-up calls ring many times but with no avail, this is also a test for viewers' forbearance of dyed-in-the-wool addict's relapse, disturbing and obdurate, the film presents us with the horrendous existing circumstance at the scrum of the earth, when prostitution is a conjoint twin with those poverty-stricken junkie-kids, as they're dispensable ciphers beyond any help, the merest trifle in the world. It is either stop or die, the final redemption using voice-over is both an expedient and a sketchy evasion of what's the real truth behind the successful withdrawal (or not).

A perpetual squint and the dazed expression doesn't indicate you're high, but with an amateurish cast, even the over-stretching make-up cannot help too much without looking stifling. There are stiff and awkward sex scenes between Christiane and her hustler boyfriend Detlev (Haustein) which borders on gratuitousness, the more well re-enacted is their cold turkey period, vicarious yet impactful, but my problem remains since it is too repulsive to watch the imitation of the needle injection, which is too frequent and overkills the impact. and it is noxious and disheartening to see those juvenile actors try so hard to reach the theatrical credibility, it is just not healthy for them. In any rate, I will recommend more adult-centered versions like Al Pacino & Kitty Winn in THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK (1971, 7/10) or Heath Ledger & Abbie Cornish in CANDY (2006, 6/10).

It is the feature length debut of director Uli Edel (LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, 1989 7/10), one prominent attribute is he interlaces the roaming subjective angle from Christiane after the heroin injection, with the unimpassioned objective observation. Also David Bowie's glam cameo jibes with the zeitgeist of the time and painfully reminds us heroin is only for those who are rich and famous. Personally speaking, the message is already taken, so for me it feels superfluous to place myself to witness the horror which I wholeheartedly despise, period.

Reversal of Fortune

With its opening long shot panning above numerous estates in Rhode Island, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE inks a plaintive sentiment to this morally ambiguous true story, the case of socialite Sunny von Bülow (Close), who descends into an unexplained brain-dead coma in the 1980, and her current husband, Claus von Bülow (Irons) is charged with attempted murder by an overdose of insulin injection. Against all the odds to his trial, Claus hires Alan Dershowitz (Silver) as his defence and eventually gets away with the indictment while the truth remains a moot point. In real life Sunny died in 2008 after almost 28 years as a human vegetable and Alan would be involved as an appellate adviser in another notorious case of O.J. Simpson.

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The Normal Heart

The last film I watch in 2014 is Ryan Murphy's much hyped HBO TV movie, a sob-fest chronicles the life of a gay activist Ned Weeks (Ruffalo) during the inception of HIV epidemic in the 80s.

Kick-starting in a flamboyant beach shindig in Fire Island to celebrate Ned's ex-boyfriend Craig (Groff)'s B-day, the film cunningly put Ned's wallflower awkwardness in the foreground among all the alluring parade of the gay sub-culture, right after the sexual revolution. But the gleeful hedonism doesn't stick, Craig's faint spell suggests a new kind of hazard will prey on the minority group and as we know it - it has haunting the world ever since.
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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

A thrilling double-bill of this classic tall-tale of alien bodysnatchers, based on Jack Finney's novel, for latter-day audience, perhaps we can still recall the latest remake THE INVASION (2007, 5/10), as a star vehicle for Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, which was dead on arrival as a major flop and presages their next colossal box-office fiasco THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007, 4/10).

Fortunately these two earlier versions are considerably better than the ill-fated mega-star paycheque product, the original 1954 film is directed by Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY 1971, 7/10), within a condensed 80 minutes, it delineates the absurd story with a gripping pace and impressive monochromatic cinematography.

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

A thrilling double-bill of this classic tall-tale of alien bodysnatchers, based on Jack Finney's novel, for latter-day audience, perhaps we can still recall the latest remake THE INVASION (2007, 5/10), as a star vehicle for Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, which was dead on arrival as a major flop and presages their next colossal box-office fiasco THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007, 4/10).

Fortunately these two earlier versions are considerably better than the ill-fated mega-star paycheque product, the original 1954 film is directed by Don Siegel (DIRTY HARRY 1971, 7/10), within a condensed 80 minutes, it delineates the absurd story with a gripping pace and impressive monochromatic cinematography.

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The Taking of Tiger Mountain

Every December, in the China mainland, is the protective month for Chinese productions in local multiplexes, practically all the foreign tentpoles are pushed back and it is also the most profitable period for this vastly booming market. This year, the two main contenders are GONE WITH THE BULLETS (2014), Wen Jiang's much-hyped follow-up to the massively successful LET THE BULLETS FLY (2010, 8/10) and this Hark Tsui's latest offer of a 3D spectacle retelling a legendary battle during the period of Chinese Civil war. Nevertheless the former receives some unexpected backlash from critics and audience, which prompts me to pick the latter, plus I am bringing my parents, who will feel more related to the story since they know the original tale very well.
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The Goodbye Girl

A Neil Simon's romantic comedy helmed by Herbert Ross, stars his wife of that time, Marsha Mason, who would continue to lead three more pictures based on Simon's script, and among those four pictures, Mason acquires three Oscar nominations out of them (including this one, CHAPTER TWO 1979 and ONLY WHEN I LAUGH 1981), but more significant is that it won BEST LEADING ACTOR for Richard Dreyfuss, once the youngest winner at the age of 30 until Adrien Brody would unseat him in THE PIANIST (2002, 9/10).
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Maps to the Stars

I will be forever indebted to this film since it effectuates my diva Moore's prestigious trifecta achievement of winning BEST ACTRESS grand slam in Berlin, Venice and Cannes, joining the prestigious elites of Jack Lemmon, Sean Penn and Juliette Binoche, and ironically being the only one who is still Oscar-less to this day (It might change after the forthcoming Oscar season). Moore plays Havana Segrand, a Tinseltown actress has been past her prime, crying out to score the same role in a remake originally stars her deceased mother Clarice Taggart (Gadon), while the heebie-jeebies are disturbingly unbearable for her, so as to she sees her dead mother's spook everywhere, even during a threesome. Moore evidently embodies Havana's over-the-top mannerism to extremes, contrasts her insolent and condescending conduct to her newly employed assistant aka. the chore whore (in her own words) Agatha (Wasikowska), a disfigured girl new-in-town with her contrived civilities in the showbiz. Cronenberg baldly exposes both the front facade and the backstabbing reality on account of Bruce Wagner's meaty script from an insider's POV. And Ms. Moore puts an all-out effort to mock and ridicule, it is purely entrancing to read her as a contemptible buffoon until the unexpected outburst suddenly terminates her futile life. In sheer blonde, Moore is fearless as ever, and beautiful as well, but it is a co-lead role at the most, she is not a sympathetic character, but one just cannot get enough of Havana Segrand!

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French Cancan

FRENCH CANCAN is a highly pleasurable extravaganza of Gallo musical and comedy from the cinematic titan Jean Renoir, placed within his marvellous oeuvre, the film doesn?t have a chance to be a standout, but compared with its follow-up ELENA AND HER MEN (1956, 5/10), Renoir?s star-vehicle for Ingrid Bergman, this film stuns in its spectacular scenic management of its pay-off moment, the much anticipated French cancan performance, which transpires to be a truly sensational delight and a sumptuous visual spectacle.
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The Trip
The Trip(2011)

A double-bill of the film versions of BBC series THE TRIP, the first season is in 2010, Steve Coogan is asked by The Observer to tour Northern England's finest restaurants, but his then girlfriend Mischa (Stilley) back-pedals in the last minute, so Coogan asks his friend, the comedian and impressionist Rob Brydon to come with him instead. The second season is released this year, and the pair embarks on a trip to Italy for the another restaurant review tour. Both seasons are separately compressed into two film features by its director Michael Winterbottom.

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The Trip To Italy

A double-bill of the film versions of BBC series THE TRIP, the first season is in 2010, Steve Coogan is asked by The Observer to tour Northern England's finest restaurants, but his then girlfriend Mischa (Stilley) back-pedals in the last minute, so Coogan asks his friend, the comedian and impressionist Rob Brydon to come with him instead. The second season is released this year, and the pair embarks on a trip to Italy for the another restaurant review tour. Both seasons are separately compressed into two film features by its director Michael Winterbottom.

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The Great White Hope

THE GREAT WHITE HOPE is a successful play by Howard Sackler first, premiered in 1967 and both Jones and Alexander won Tony Awards for it. Then this film adaptation sticks with the two leads and is directed by Martin Ritt, whose works are generically significant in requiring dramatic acting predisposition (THE LONG, HOT SUMMER 1958, 6/10; MURPHY'S ROMANCE 1986, 7/10).

The scenario is about the black boxer Jack Jefferson (Jones), whose real-life archetype is Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908-1915), his up-and-down life orbit and the relationship with his white financé Eleanor (Alexander). And the title signifies his opponents' urgent solicitation for any white boxer who can reclaim the golden belt from him.
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Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

A 2012 documentary about the 2010 retrospective exhibition "THE ARTIST IS PRESENT" held at MoMA, New York, by the Serbia-born Marina Abramovic, the performance-art spearhead, who has been active for over 40 years and namely the "grandmother of performance art".
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Alice (Neco z Alenky)

A loose adaptation of Lewis Carroll's ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, this otherworldly piece of work marks the first feature-length filmmaking from Czech stop-motion animation master Jan Svankmajer since he threw himself into this line of work in the 1960s.

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A cinema-going to continually witness Jake Gyllenhaal's unstoppable resurgence to be the most versatile and ardent actor among his peers. After last year's one-two punch PRISONERS (2013, 8/10) and ENEMY (2013, 8/10), NIGHTCRAWLER is screenwriter Dan Gilroy's director debut, set in L.A., the title refers to hired hands who usually drift at night, as soon as any accident or crime happens, they will rush to the scene and take lurid photos and videos, then sell them to the local media for highest bid. Gyllenhaal's Louis Bloom is one of them, he is so good at it and professes that he is born to do this job, what's more chilling is that he is a callous sociopath with no moral boundary, even more shockingly is the society not only condones him, but encourages and rewards him bountifully.

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Separate Tables

An all-star screen adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play, a BEST PICTURE nominee (7 nominations and 2 wins), SEPARATE TABLES is directed by Oscar-winner Delbert Mann, the only case a person won BEST DIRECTOR trophy for his debut feature (MARTY, 1955) in the Academy Awards' history.

The story takes place at a seaside hotel in Bournemouth in off-season, where "separate tables" are prepared for its long-term tenants. Among them, there is the mousy but high-strung maiden Sibyl (Kerr), who has been through some disturbing mental "states" and is tyrannised by her snobbish mother Ms. Railton-Bell (Cooper). Sibyl is overtly attracted to the middle-aged Major Angus Pollock (Niven), who is constantly bragging about his army feats but also appears to conceal an ulterior motive related to his shady side. In the opening, he just returns to the hotel after a two-days outing, when Sibyl concernedly asks his whereabouts, his response sounds with an affectation of casualness, and as usual he excels in dodging Sibyl's affection.

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Angst Essen Seele auf (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul)

Doubtlessly this film is one of Fassbinder's greatest masterpieces, a spontaneous love story between Emmi (Mira), a 60-something German cleaning lady and Ali (Salem), a much younger Moroccan immigrant, and how they cope with the profuse prejudice from the people around them in light of colour, ethnicity and age. What's more essential, the implosion between them.

Stunningly shot with a touch of campy aesthetics and obsessively rendered the characters in tableaux vivants which linger conspicuously longer than standard, Fassbinder deploys theatrics to its uppermost stylishness, ever since the opening scene, Emmi stumbles into the Arabic bar whiling hiding from a sudden shower, she has been put under the gaze and examination of others because she dares to stride into the unfamiliar surroundings and doesn't get cold-feet.

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Out in the Dark

A formidably engaging queer output from Israel, my second entry into this particular scenario after Haim Tabakman's EYES WIDE OPEN (2009, 6/10). OUT IN THE DARK is director Michael Mayer's debut feature, and he co-writes the script of an arresting drama wrestles with coming-out, domestic conflict, political witch-hunt, social discrimination against homosexuality with appalling atrocity. It touches on many thorny and grim issues of the facts-of-life in the middle east (perceptively chooses Palestine and Israel, the two adjacent foes, for their utter incompatibility in politics and religions, whereas love can conquer these all), tellingly and touchingly eulogises an ode to the true love's indestructible strength albeit a gloomy future is probably anticipating for the star-crossed lovers Nimr (Jacob), a Palestinian student and Roy (Aloni), a young lawyer from Israel.
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My introduction piece to the screen goddess Greta Garbo actually is her penultimate film, under Lubitsch's guidance and paired with a rakish but urbane Melvyn Douglas, Garbo is Ninotchka, a Russian envoy sent to Paris to deal with a jewellery trade, which is involved into a lawsuit thanks to her inadequate comrades.

Though one has to wait for a good 20 minutes before Garbo's first appearance in the movie, the foreplay is jocund and pitches the overall comedic atmosphere in the sheer disparity between capitalism and communism. The opening gambit of three communists Iranoff (Ruman), Buljanoff (Bressart) and Kopalski (Granach), from heatedly conversing about whether or not stay in a luxurious hotel for the sake of the priceless jewellery they are taking with, until they unanimously decide to takes the royal suite since it has a big enough safe to contain the whole set, is the quintessential Lubitsch's touch, liberating lighthearted humour but with grace and sophistication, pinpointing the foibles of human nature with inviting proprieties, where in contemporary comedies, we have almost lost it all.

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

This third instalment of THE HUNGER GAMES arrives as appointed, although the money-grubbing manoeuvre to divide the final book into two movies can automatically repel those who are not in the fan-base, and feel disgusted by its rapacious appetite. Actually it is where I belong, unfortunately, Moore is the new addition in the cast, as President Coin, leadership usually is not in her wheelhouse, remember CHILDREN OF MEN (2006, 9/10)? Plus my perfectionist side urges me to continue since I have watched the first two THE HUNGER GAMES (2012, 7/10) and THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013, 6/10), for better or worse, I will definitely watch the final chapter next year to wrap it up, sorry to fall into the machination of capitalistic greed. However, I will keep a clear mind to next year's INSURGENT (2015) and MAZE RUNNER: SCORCH TRIALS (2015).

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This much hyped 12-YEARS-A-FILM distils a boy and his family's 12 years lifetime into a 2h45m feature film is Linklater's genuine brainchild which silckly blurs the line between documentary and theatrics, finally arrives after the sublime closure of his BEFORE trilogy (BEFORE MIDNIGHT 2013, 9/10), and it is a sure-fire pinnacle in his resilient career with a marked traction into the Oscar race as one of the front-runners.

In the past 12 years, each year, Linklater assembles the same cast, the centre four are Mason (Coltrane), his divorced parents (Arquette and Hawke) and his elder sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), to shoot a string of shorts about their life, mainly Mason's as the title denotes, which Linklater has scripted before, and when Mason reaches 18, the film ends with his first day in college, signals a finish-line for his boyhood and augurs an unmapped future into adulthood.
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The Night of Counting the Years

Having been in Egypt for more than 10 months, still I have been oblivious to any Egyptian film, which doesn't seem to be right, on its imdb page it writes "Universally recognised as one of the greatest Egyptian films ever made", so what would be more promising to start with this one as my introduction piece to Egyptian cinema.

The film is based upon the true story of the discovery of 40 Royal Mummies in 1881 in Thebes, the capital of the Pharaonic Empire, notably produced by Roberto Rossellini. As director Chadi Abdel Salam's only feature length output, evening before seeing it, one finds it is a national treasure inspires reverence.

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The Ruling Class

A very dark and farcical comedy recounts a lunatic's rising in the British ruling class, it is an adaptation of Peter Barnes' stage play. Jack Gurney (O'Toole) is a paranoid schizophrenic man lived in asylum for 8 years, who thinks he is Jesus Christ, the funny thing is that he is also the sole heir of his accidentally self-asphyxiated father, the 13th Earl of Gurney (Andrews), and to inherit the peerage, his return to his family villa does hinder his vile uncle Sir Charles' (Mervyn) plan to take possession of the family estates.

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By no means I am a scientific geek, my days of tackling with science has been fortuitously truncated years ago, so putting aside all these heatedly discussed astrological concepts, to be specific, wormhole, black hole, tesseract, the fifth dimension and time travel relativity (thanks to the enormous contribution of Dr. Kip Thorne), INTERSTELLAR is a potent analogue of Nolan's previous stunning visual and conceptual extravaganza INCEPTION (2010, 9/10), which looks deep into the bizarre inner activity within one's dream realm, but this time, Nolan's scope is going the opposite direction, extended outwardly to the unknown universe and based on a more perceivable future of the earth's imminent doom (we are all the culprits of various degrees in this scenario), it is not just an awe-inspiring outer-space odyssey, in its dual storyline, the life on earth is phenomenally linked by human's primitive force - love.
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Human Capital

This is the opening film of the 7th edition of The Panorama of the European Film in Cairo, watched it in Zawya cinema, HUMAN CAPITAL is this year's official submission for Oscar Foreign Language Film from Italy, after freshly winning the coveted award for Paolo Sorrentino's THE GREAT BEAUTY (2013, 8/10) earlier this year. Interestingly, both film are released in 2013 in Italy, so during their face-off in DAVID DI DONATELLO AWARDS (Italy's equivalent of Oscar), HUMAN CAPITAL was the biggest dark horse, defeated THE GREAT BEAUTY in the BEST FILM competition (with a total 7 wins, including BEST ACTRESS, SUPPORTING ACTOR and ACTRESS, SCREENPLAY and EDITING), although the latter also swept 9 awards including BEST DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, ACTOR, CINEMATOGRAPHY and so on. Thus basically it is an unforseen win-win game.

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Rumble Fish
Rumble Fish(1983)

After his illustrious heydays in the 70s, 1980s seems to be a more productive period for Francis Ford Coppola when he delved into more scaled-down projects with more leeway for his artistic creation. RUMBLE FISH is a perfect example of this kind, released back-to-back with Coppola's other film THE OUTSIDERS, both adapted from S.E. Hinton's novel and met with mixed reviews at then. Nevertheless in retrospect, RUMBLE FISH is a sharply glossy achievement whose sterling lustre of the coloured fish against the canvas of high-contrast Black & White cinematography anticipated masterpieces like SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993, 9/10), and it is also a star-maker for Matt Dillon's bad boy image and etches Mickey Rourke's harrowing force of personality mixed with unfathomable mystique and magnetic sex appeal on the silver screen for eternity.
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The Searchers

Viably the most well-known Ford-Wayne vehicle to contemporary audiences and my second entry into Ford's prolific canon, after the lukewarm african sappy adventure MOGAMBO (1953, 6/10), THE SEARCHERS gradually acquires the prestigious status to be a paragon in the American Western genre while being critically misconstrued by most critics as another routine Ford-Wayne collaboration at the time of its release, and time does its justice in its own manner.

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Dancing With Maria

This is perhaps my only entrance to this year's Cairo International Film Festival (9th to 17th November) due to time conflict, it is a documentary about Argentinian dancer, dance therapist Maria Fux, who is still teaching in her studio at the age of 92. 

Saw the film in a screening with the director Ivan Gergolet, it is his debut feature, and runs a succinct 75 minutes, opening shot catches the moment when a laser light stunt is implemented in the city centre of Buenos aires. Then the film segues gently into the studio of Maria, already a nonagenarian, with a room full of her classmates, starts her lesson; meanwhile supplements with black and white archives encapsulate her back story and illustrious career path.

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Only Lovers Left Alive

Jarmusch's latest offering is a tall tale of the nocturnal vampires when immortality overkills, one pair of centuries-old vampires, Eve (Swinton) and Adam (Hiddleston) resides in Tangier and Detroit respectively, reunites to brave themselves in the dismal of human race's sovereign (in the fanged's term, we are called "zombies") since Adam is referred as "a suicidal romantic scoundrel".

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The debut film from Cambodian director Hong Khaou, which is indeed a UK production, pairs the outed actor Ben Whishaw with Chinese actress Pei-Pei Cheng, who is the Kungfu heroine in her prime and has launched a strong comeback in Ang Lee's masterful CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000, 10/10) as the villainous Jade Fox. And the story is rather plain-speaking, Whishaw is Richard, a young gay man loses his boyfriend Kai (Leung) in a car accident, and he has to take care of Kai's mother Junn (Pei-Pei), who has been put in an elderly house since Kai never comes out to her.
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Gone Girl
Gone Girl(2014)

GONE GIRL finally arrives in the cinema here, so what could be more appropriate than Fincher's vastly anticipated and razor-sharp dissection of modern marriage/relationship for a Halloween night? The aftermath of this trendsetting thriller can impact abidingly on one's memory not only for its plot twist but also a brave ending which dares to defy the accepted mode of "perpetrator gets punished in the end", and intrigues viewers to inspect our own quotidian bearings and give an inscrutable glimpse to our partner.

Adapted from Gillian Flynn's bestseller of the same name, who is also the sole person credited for the screenplay here, so it secures there is no creative discordance as far as the storyline is concerned. GONE GIRL is already Fincher's highest grossing film in North America, surpasses THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008, 7/10)'s $127 millions record. It is also Fincher's third collaboration with Trent Reznor (from Nine Inch Nails) and Atticus Boss, after THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010, 9/10) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011, 8/10). Prominently the duo's droning score conjures up an underplayed perturbing ambience which sits perfectly along Fincher's aloof palette and the central performances from Affleck and Pike.

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North by Northwest

An originator of the wronged-man-goes-berserk thriller, Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST is the ultimate heavyweight which can make its contemporaneous 007 vehicle, say GOLDFINGER (1964, 6/10), embarrassingly pale in comparison.

Two of its most visually memorable and elaborately appreciated action sequences of this delectable classic are the murderous crop-dusting biplane and the final cliffhanger on the Mt. Rushmore, still full of vim and vigor upon my first viewing. But it is also a great suspenseful mystery (at least for at the first half) of a mistaken identity, the McGuffin is an agent called George Kaplan, and our innocent protagonist, an advertising man Roger Thornhill (Grant) is mistaken for him due to a rather trivial coincidence (which completely evaded me during my viewing) in the beginning.

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About Time
About Time(2013)

ABOUT TIME is one half snappy romance and another half family drama which lures us into the tutelage of some very beneficial "Chicken Soup for the Soul" truisms like "value your life and live everyday fully", "notice the beauty in the small things around you" and "be brave to say goodbye to the beloved and move on", such and such. And under the sine qua non of a time-travel set-up.
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Hope and Glory

HOPE AND GLORY is the protean John Boorman's autobiographic re-enactment of his childhood during WWII, in the suburban London, the Rowan family, Bill (Rice-Edwards) is an ordinary 10-year-old schoolboy with parents Grace (Miles) and Clive (Hayman), he has an elder sister Dawn (Davis) and a younger one Dawn (Muir). The film begins just before the war, through Bill's eyes, it endearingly portrays how the war has influenced and altered their life, and very rarely in a vivaciously snappy tone, which sets itself apart from the usual clusters of heavy-handed war travails.
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Cleo From 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7)

A 90-minutes real-time experiment tracks Cléo's life from 5pm to 6:30pm (although the title indicates a 120-minutes span), directed by the reverend female Left Bank pioneer Agnès Varda, actually it is my first entrée into her oeuvre.

Cléo (short for Cleopatra, Marchand) is an uprising singer, who is going to get a test report from her doctor of whether or not she has cancer, the film records the exact time she spends before receiving the result. Beginning from an ominous Tarot card augury (the cards is the only part shot in color), Cléo descends into upset and despair, solaced by her assistant Angèle (Davray) and a fur hat bought in a millinery, they return home and Cléo has a brief moment with her preoccupied lover (de Vilallonga), then arrives the pianist Bob (the composer Legrand himself) and the lyricist (Korber), they rehearse a poignant rendition of SANS TOI (a majestic one-take close-up of Marchand's emotive exuberance).

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The Night of the Iguana

Another terrific Tennessee Williams cinematic presentation after the contently controversial SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (1959, 7/10), THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA is directed by the almighty John Huston, starring a trio of A-list names Burton, Gardner and Kerr, with a show-stealing supporting performance from the unknown Grayson Hall (who is the sole cast member reaps an Oscar nomination), and it also includes Sue Lyon's follow-up role after Kubrick's LOLITA (1962, 7/10), which foreshadows her career being typecast as a precocious siren with an ingénue disguise.
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The Maze Runner

Another YA adaptation gets the green light for a sequel this year, after Shailene Woodley's star-making vehicle DIVERGENT (2014, 6/10), although both are welterweights compared to THE HUNGER GAMES juggernaut as far as rate of return is concerned. THE MAZE RUNNER is unique in its claustrophobic single-location setting (considerably slims down the budget, an estimated $34 million set side by side with $85 million of DIVERGENT), 90% of time the youngsters (boys exclusively) are entrapped in a glade (so they are called gladers) with the only exit is a giant maze with jumbo cybernetic arthropods named Grievers preying them.
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The Congress
The Congress(2014)

Israeli director Ari Folman's fourth film, THE CONGRESS is the much anticipated follow-up after his Oscar-nominated animation-documentary WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2008), which to my ruefulness I have yet to watch, since I am eternally lagging in the field of documentaries, let alone a war documentary.

THE CONGRESS has an intrinsically distinctive allure of its own because it is a film creatively amalgamate live-action with animation, and inspired by Stanislaw Lem's Sci-Fi novel THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS, it ambitiously challenges to handle a thornier theme of human race's incorrigible addiction to chemicals which ultimately erase all one egos than it appears to suggest, a showbiz industry agism satire and the advance of technology which foreshadows the doom of the line of actor (which both FINALE FANTSY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN 2001, and the film itself can justify at least for now, animation cannot replace real actors, live-capture may be a more probable contrivance).

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Le Casanova de Fellini

Fellini's cinematic vitality was undeniably on the ebb in his later years of filmmaking, and when a director's name can blatantly headline in the film's title, a common demonstration is that he has the autocratic power over his work without any compromise, so it is a good sign for the director's devotees, but sometimes, it is also prone to backfire often due to the auteur's unbridled ego. And FELLINI'S CASANOVA is an exemplar of both cases.

Fellini is quite antipathetic towards his centre figure, the Venetian gadabout Giacomo Casanova, maybe partly originates from jealousy, it is a man who is an emblem of libidinal licentiousness (with women), any heterosexual man has the right to be envious.

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Sunset Boulevard

Billy Wilder's paramount triumph of film-noir melodrama, piercing through the Hollywood industry's utter callousness and an over-the-hill silent era actress' poignant illusion of a comeback to garner the spotlight.

The film begins like DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944, 8/10), our ill-fated protagonist Joe Gills (Holden), a 30 something hack writer for the Hollywood studio, narrates beyond his grave to reveal the tragedy ending - as shown in a majestic shot from the angle of the bottom of a swimming pool (a trick done by putting a mirror in the bottom and shot from its reflection), a man's body is floating on the water, facing down, and for sharp eyes, it is obviously Joe himself.
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This Special Friendship

Out of curiosity, how come French writer Roger Peyrefitte's first novel LES AMITIÉS PARTICULIÈRES (published in 1943), which daringly depicts two boys' forbidden love in a boarding school could get a film adaptation in as early as 1964? Considering its thematic story conspicuously nudges such social taboos like pedophile and the dark corner in the priesthood.

Shot in Black and White by the late French director Jean Delannoy, the film is largely faithful to the source novel, Georges de Sarre (Lacombrade), a newly-arrived senior student in a Catholic boarding school for upperclass boys, soon emerges as the pick of his peers and will be admitted to the school academy any day, when he first lays his eyes on a much younger schoolmate Alexandre Motier (Haudepin), a cherubic boy with the face of an angel, the two mutually attract to each other, through love letters and secret rendezvous, their "special friendship" cannot continue without the punishment by the school, after several bouts of wrestling with several fathers (Bouquet as Father Trennes, Seigner as Father Lauzon and Nat as Father Superior), eventually they are unmatchable to the rigorous church, their future becomes ominous.

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The Equalizer

A recent cinema-going of Denzel Washington's latest thriller directed by Antoine Fuqua, the man behind his Oscar-crowning good-cop-goes-bad turn in TRAINING DAY (2001, 8/10). But that is only a one-off bait for his Oscar consummation. As one of the most consistently bankable actor in Hollywood (at least in the domestic market), Washington's good-man card never fail his audience, bar his sortie in portraying an ambiguous character as a drunken pilot garners him another Oscar-nomination in Robert Zemeckis' FLIGHT (2012, 7/10). So this reunion is more or less commercial-oriented than an ambitious art-house attempt as Fuqua has established his status as the Hollywood go-to action journeyman after producing profitable outputs like SHOOTER (2007) and OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN (2013).
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Once Upon a Time in the West

Sergio Leone's first saga of his ONCE UPON A TIME trilogy after competing THE DOLLARS trilogy. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is as good as his classic Spagetti Western predecessors if it is not better. Mustering three Hollywood toughies Bronson, Fonda and Robards, the film evidently echoes the pattern of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966, 8/10), although Bronson is a perfect specimen embodies both the Ugly and the Good, and for the first time Sergio deploys a woman, the Mediterranean beauty Cardinale to be a pivot among these three, contrives an interwoven plot with vengeance, duel, murder, vice as well as the righteous side of the Western ideology: masculinity, integrity, fraternity and chivalry.
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Wild Reeds (Les Roseaux Sauvages)

WILD REEDS is my introductory piece to André Téchiné's cinematic dominion, its title refers to famous fable THE OAK AND THE REED, and it is an adolescent quartet in 1962 France, against the backdrop of the twilight of Algerian War and the demise of French colonisation.

Everyone thinks 18-year-old high-schoolers Françoise (Morel) and Maïté (Bouchez) are an item, even Maïté, who is deeply influenced by her mother Madame Alvarez's (Moretti) communist slant, thinks so, they are so compatible and intimate together, although so far the relationship has been purely platonic, it is only a matter of time before it turns physical.

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In Another Country

Unwittingly it is my very first film from the universally acclaimed South Korean auteur Sang-soo Hong, by virtue of Isabelle Huppert. But out of my heart, the film is frustratingly bland and ineptly flippant.

All the setting is exclusively in a remote beach and a family hotel near sea side. After an informal conversation between a pair of mother and daughter, Park Soo (Yoon) and Wonju (Jeong), about their familial dispute. Then Wonju starts to write three short stories for her script, each centres a French woman named Anne (Huppert), respectively as a female director, an adulteress and a divorcée (conveniently dressed in blue, red and green), and Wonju becomes the hotelier.

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This is Tom Hardy's one-man-show, in a literary sense, the entire film is exclusively shot in a car while he is driving to London at night, and taking successive phone calls (thanks to the convenient Bluetooth technology) and trying to keep his life from tearing apart. And it is all because that he believes he is correcting his wrongs by making the right choice, even the risk is that he will lose everything he has, a well-paid job, a rosy career and a perfect family.

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Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata)

It is Ingrid Bergman's big screen swan song and the two renowned Bergman compatriots' one and only collaboration. Charlotte Andergast (Bergman) is a renowned pianist who recently lost her companion Leonardo (Løkkeberg), so she accepts the invitation to stay with her eldest daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann) and her husband Viktor (Björk) for some time, whom she hasn't seen for seven years.
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The Double
The Double(2014)

THE IT CROWD comedian Richard Ayoade's second feature film THE DOUBLE is a noir-stylish incubus, and it cannot dodge the comparison with Denis Villeneuve's ENEMY (2013, 8/10), since both tackle a storyline with a doppelgänger and may or may not be a case of split personality.

In an unspecified background, Simon (Eisenberg) is an easily frightened and paltry clerk works in an unnamed enterprise headed by The Colonel (Fox), we have no clue of what the real deal of it except that their business are people, characterless people as commodities, still it is rather implicit. Simon is unfairly treated and looked down upon by everyone (the people in the company consider him as a nameless pawn), even the girl whom he has a crush on and who is his voyeuristic object, his co-worker Hannah (Wasikowska) takes his admiration for granted, everyone, the pathetic Simon goes to her department and asks for make one copy of some documents, it is the only way he can speak with her.
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Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble (We Won't Grow Old Together)

In view of my kick-start to learn French, I will watch more French-speaking output, so today my random pick is Maurice Pialat's second feature film, Pialat is often cited as an unsung maestro among his generation, so never to late to begin a voyage into a new auteur's world.

WE WON'T GROW OLD TOGETHER, the title is self-evident for its glum denouement, the story centres on a couple, Jean (Yanne) and Catherine (Jobert, the future mother of Eva Green!), their suffocating relationship is undergone a sea change after 6 years together, meanwhile, Jean's estranged wife (yes, he is still married) Françoise (Méril) is back, but don't expect she is going to fight for Jean, it is way too melodramatic for a Gallic love battlefield, from A to Z it is a tug-of-war between Jean and Catherine.
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Educating Rita

It is not a British version of MY FAIR LADY (1964, 6/10), EDUCATING RITA goes a bit higher than that, it is about how literature can improve one's listless life and transfigure one's entire bearing from within.

Rita, aka Susan White (Walters) is a 26-year-old hairdresser, married to an ordinary electrician for 6 years, she never goes to college, but finds herself as a thirsty bookworm, thus under the aim of completing her education and take the exam, she eagerly takes an open university tutorial from a college literature professor Dr. Frank Bryant (Caine), a middle-age divorcé and drunkard. So it is a story of Rita's transformation from a low-class commoner to a mature woman who realises her self-worth and does embrace to the life she is really pining for. At the same time, it is a brilliant two-hander, Frank's life orbit also veers dramatically since the two form a thoroughly cordial friendship. (I was so relieved it didn't end up like a Hollywood mawkish rom-com with artificial happy ending.)

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By no means MOGAMBO is among John Ford's best work, nor is Gable or Kelly's, but, it brings Ava Gardner her the one and only Oscar nomination, this reason alone can suffice my curiosity and leapfrog onto the top tier of my watch list.

Although the selling point is the African safari, its exotic fauna and aboriginal tribes, this film is a standard combo of location shooting and studio imitation, particularly feels ill at ease when the two drastically incompatible part bluntly encounter during the confrontation scenes in the gorilla field, one can feasibly detect actors are acting in front of the footages of the wild creatures, since the qualities of their cinematography are conspicuously inconsistent. We can never catch the vicariousness after all.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It is not quite often a book author can direct a film adapted from his own novel, but Stephen Chbosky did it with this partially autobiographic story about a high school freshman Charlie (Lerman), gains love and friendship during the first year with his soon-to-be-graduated senior schoolmates.

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Fahrenheit 451

Truffaut's first colour film and his one and only UK venture, a significant fiasco at its release and also soured by the severe feud between Truffaut and the leading man Oskar Werner. Nevertheless, 48 years later, this dystopia drama continues glistening with its profound social message of a near future where books are banned from its ostensibly harmonious but substantially benumbing and oppressive society, adapted from USA Sci-Fi writer Ray Bradbury's eponymous novel. Notably, its futuristic mise-en-scène and Nicolas Roeg's phenomenal cinematography are endurable by the time, may even surpass the film itself.
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Ghostbusters (1984 Original)

My belated visit to the 80s classic ultra-popular American supernatural comedy directed by Ivan Reitman, indisputably his most successful directorial work to date, the Hollywood veteran is now in the inevitable course of being eclipsed by his son Jason Reitman, who is already a two-times Oscar-nominated director (JUNO 2007, 8/10 and UP IN THE AIR 2009, 7/10).
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Paper Moon
Paper Moon(1973)

Director Peter Bogdanovich breaks off his semi-retirement with a new film SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY screening at this year's Venice, 13 years after his previous one THE CAT'S MEOW (2001), and PAPER MOON is my second entry into his filmography, after the masterful mother-son dramedy MASK (1985, 8/10), which is Cher's career best performance ever.
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The Time Machine

A film adaptation of H.G. Wells science fiction novel THE TIME MACHINE, made more than half a century ago by Hungarian-born American animator and sci-fi genre artisan George Pal. It won an Oscar for BEST EFFECTS predominantly courtesy of its groundbreaking time-lapse technique to reflect the accelerating alteration of the space when the time machine is operating.

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A cinema-going in a newly-discovered multiplex in Cairo inside a half-empty shopping mall, LUCY is another rare triumph of a female-driven blockbuster directed by Gallo-film entrepreneur Luc Besson, whose creativity and clout has been significantly ebbed away after THE BIG BLUE (1988, 8/10), LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994, 9/10) and THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997, 8/10). So I have been intentionally steering clear of his subsequent work, however recently the noteworthy career renaissance of Scarlett Johansson intrigues me immensely and I am tempted by the conception of gearing up the the maximum of human's cerebral capacity. But, in the end, Besson overkills the idea since his brain capacity doesn't quite hit the requirement to facilitate such an ambitious project.

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Kinky Boots
Kinky Boots(2006)

KINKY BOOTS has become a Broadway sensation in 2013 with music and lyrics from Cyndi Lauper, while this original film is equally brilliant with a broad message of self-affirmation. Directed by Julian Jarrold (BECOMING JANE 2007, 7/10), it is another old-fashioned uplifting adult fairytale from UK, such as CALENDAR GIRLS (2003, 7/10), and THE FULL MONTY (1997), both exploit on the prudish nudity, but this film, based on a true event, is about a shoe factory owner Charlie (Edgerton) saves his family business by finding a niche market to design kinky boots for drag queens, with the help of a black transvestite Lola (Ejiofor), the story itself sounds outlandish, but the film is a thorough bliss to watch.

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With its technical specs like 1.33:1 aspect ratio and posh Black & White cinematography, Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski's fifth feature film IDA, gains an instant art house recognition albeit its pithy 82-minute running time.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Leaving the Avengers behind, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY heralds the 2nd phase in the Marvel's silver screen expedition as IRON MAN (2008, 8/10) kick-started the 1st phase. But who is James Gunn? whose director résumé only encompasses the gooey horror SLITHER (2006) and a superhero indie SUPER (2010).
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L'année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad)

Recently deceased French auteur Alain Resnais' second full-length feature after the groundbreaking HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959), and LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, the Golden Lion winner in Venice, equally breaks the norms of conventional cinematic language, a trompe l'oeil obscures reality and illusion, Resnais conducts a simultaneous but disparate parallel of our protagonist's genteel voiceover (or soliloquy) narrative and the black-and-white mis en scène on which we are mesmerisingly hooked.

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Kill Your Darlings

A dazzling character piece centres around a brutal murder case which implicates several future literature big shots of the beat generation, Allen Ginsberg (Radcliffe) is the freshman of Columbia University, he encounters a fellow student Lucien Carr (DeHaan), who brings him into a world of unorthodoxy and defiance against the rules and conformism, and he also meets the young Jack Kerouac (Huston) and William Burroughs (Foster). But Lucien's personal imbroglio with his fervent lover David Kammerer (C. Hall), a professor-turned-janitor, makes everything complicated, and eventually the real-life event changes their life path forever.

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The Little Prince

After ORLANDO (1992, 7/10), here is another film adaptation of a novel which is regarded as difficult to bring onto the silver screen, LE PETIT PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the main concern is the book is rather tiny, but the director is the over-the-hill Stanley Donen (SINGING IN THE RAIN 1952 and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS 1954, 6/10), so it is par for the course that it is a musical picture suitable for a more general family audience.
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My third entry in Potter's oeuvre, following YES (2004, 7/10) and THE MAN WHO CRIED (2000, 6/10), ORLANDO is a 7-chapter sumptuous period prose lilting swiftly from death, love, poetry, politics, society, sex to birth, in about 400 years from Queen Elizabeth I (Crisp) to present day (as in 1992).

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Burden of Dreams

It is a bizarre case I enjoy the documentary about the film more than the film itself, especially it is Herzog's FITZCARRALDO, an arduously passion project shot in Peruvian Amazon jungle with tremendous hardship (which took almost 5 years to complete), notoriously famous for its outlandish plot about hauling a gigantic steamboat through a small mountain, the egocentricity of its leading man Klaus, the strife between Klaus and rest of the team during the filming (which unfortunately bypassed in the accompanying documentary BURDEN OF DREAMS). continue reading my review on my blog here:


It is a bizarre case I enjoy the documentary about the film more than the film itself, especially it is Herzog's FITZCARRALDO, an arduously passion project shot in Peruvian Amazon jungle with tremendous hardship (which took almost 5 years to complete), notoriously famous for its outlandish plot about hauling a gigantic steamboat through a small mountain, the egocentricity of its leading man Klaus, the strife between Klaus and rest of the team during the filming (which unfortunately bypassed in the accompanying documentary BURDEN OF DREAMS). continue reading my review on my blog here:

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

As a compulsive purist, it is aching to write this review since I missed the opening scenes for 10 minutes at least, watched it in a shoddy 3D screen and the surging audience after Ramadan blindsided both me and (obviously) the cinema, thanks to a long queue and the lack of countermeasure from the tickets office, what a mood-killing damper!
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Alexander Paynes' heartwarming father-son road trip (with mother and another son join then quit in the midway) in his home state, saturated in a nostalgic black-and-white monochrome, NEBRASKA is sophisticated witty and charismatically affecting, comfortably sits in the niche of Payne's outstanding wheelhouse.
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Spoorloos (The Vanishing)

My first George Sluizer's film, a bleak but tantalising examination of psychological sociopath and the obsession of finding out the truth beneath. The plot-line is pretty straightforward, Rex (Bervoets) and Saskia (ted Steege) are a young Dutch couple on a vacation to France, en route, they stop in a busy gas station and Saskia is disappeared, three years later, the abductor Raymond Lemorne (Donnadieu) contacts Rex, the latter has been bedevilled by the incident ever since, Raymond asks Rex if he is willing to face the same treatment which Saskia had experienced so as to conclude his pathological obsession, his answer is astonishingly perverse and the finale is uncompromisingly gut-wrenching.
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California Suite

Opening credits mingling with British artists David Hockney's artwork, CALIFORNIA SUITE has a pleasing promise to be sophisticatedly funny or creatively witty, it is based on Neil Simon's successful play and directed by Herbert Ross in his prime (after THE TURNING POINT and THE GOODBYE GIRL, both in 1977).
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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

At times, it is axiomatically wholesome to watch a film stars Amy Adams, this 2008 indie fare directed by a relatively unknown name Bharat Nalluri is a delicious throwback of the era at the threshold of WWII, and it is a jolly one-day adventure in the posh London social stage.
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ENEMY is Denis Villeneuve's back-to-back psychological drama with PRISONER (2013, 8/10), treads the water of a doppelgänger sub-genre, it is a neatly gripping head-scratcher hoisted by its jaw-dropping anti-climax (literally the flabbergasted final scene), and confidently beckons for repeated viewings, running succinctly within 90 minutes, Villeneuve knows how to play his game perfectly.

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg)

A three-act musical (or four if one counts the final reunion independently) with all dialogue sung by its characters, the second of its unique kind I've watched so far, the previous one is Tom Hooper's LES MISÉRABLES (2012, 6/10), THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG is director Jacques Demy's third feature, a controversial Palme d'Or winner, more for its groundbreaking technique than its own substance, nevertheless it instantly launched the starlet Catherine Deneuve into stardom and has initiated her extended and illustrious career not only limited in the French cinema.
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Aronofsky's long-waited follow-up after BLACK SWAN (2010, 9/10) is a re-enactment of biblically inspired story of Noah's ark, NOAH is a spectacular visual stunt spiked with Aronofsky's atheist re-construction of a life-or-death conflict between God's will and humanity.

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Captain America: The First Avenger

Incited by its super polished CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014, 7/10), I feel impulsive to watch its prequel, which eluded me when it came out in 2011 chiefly thanks to the irreparable damage caused by Evan's lame Human Torch act in the awful FANTASTIC 4 duds, and his breakthrough role in the murderously awful comedy NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE (2001, 3/10), I just thought he was not bright enough to be interesting as a national hero, however, both the second Captain American venture and SNOWPIERCER (2013, 7/10) have regained my faith in him, and finally I watched the film.
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Elena and Her Men

A Jean Renoir vaudeville stars Ingrid Bergman as a Polish princess-cum-widow Elena Sokorowska in pre WWI Paris, merrily philandering with her suitors, until they are pinned down between two, the radical party general François Rollan (Marais) who is a candidate for the prime minister of the country and a romantic count Henri de Chevincourt (Ferrer).
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Harold and Maude

It is a quaint and quirky May-December romance between a 20-some morbid rich kid Harold (Cort) with a holocaust-surviver Maude (Gordon), who is approaching her 80-year-old birthday. Harold is a torpid and pasty boy possessed with death, he frequently plays suicide pranks at home so much so that his mother (Pickles) doesn't take it seriously at all, which is designed as a peculiar opening gambit sets the black comedy tone of the film directed by Hal Ashby (BEING THERE 1979, 8/10 and SHAMPOO 1975, 5/10).
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The Dark Crystal

Puppetry master Jim Henson's sui generis puppet movie of a Sci-Fi conquest in a remote planet, spellbindingly grotesque and darkly cultish. The bizarre figures of the creatures can be fairly startling as a family treat to meet children's eyes, as an adult, watching this 32-year-old film for the first time is a true eye-opener.

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The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)

Catching up on Oscar-calibre films which I have yet to watch, I stumble upon this Argentinian crime-drama, a fair upsetter won BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM over more critically acclaimed THE WHITE RIBBON (2009, 8/10) and A PROPHET (2009, 9/10), in its own strength, THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES is a powerful and near-perfect dissection on how people are stuck in the prison of their own memories, "you will end up with only memories" is a vital sentence imprinted deeply in audience's mind.
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The Monster
The Monster(1996)

Before ascending to his insurmountable zenith with LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1997, 8/10), Roberto Benigni's THE MONSTER is a winsome farce about an innocent layabout Loris (Benigni) is wrongly identified as a serial women-slaughterer at large, in order to catch him red-handed, the police force assigns a young policewoman Jessica (Braschi) to go to great lengths to entice him into the irrepressible perpetration (ultimately, a red riding hood costume), therefore, a spate of funny sketches ensure while Loris' resistance is ultra-impenetrable.
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Under the Skin

Substantially an unorthodox extraterrestrial tall-tale from UK nonconformist Jonathan Glazer, UNDER THE SKIN is his long-waited third feature after SEXY BEAST (2000) and BIRTH (2004, 6/10) and it is truly worth the wait. Glazer composes sublime visual accomplishments and accurate location scouting to counterbalance the linear narrative happenings, which almost can be bracketed as a silent film if we can exclude all the pickup chitchat (barely accessible thanks to the thick Scottish accent).

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In & Out
In & Out(1997)

A commercially successful mainstream out-of-the-closet comedy in the 90s mocking the stereotypical homophobia in the provincial midwestern America, directed by the voice-of-Yoda, Frank Oz (THE STEPFORD WIVIES 2004, 4/10), and stars a dapper Kevin Cline as Howard Brackett, a high school English teacher being outed on the 68th Oscar ceremony by his former student Cameron Drake (Dillon) in his BEST ACTOR acceptance speech, in addition to that, he is scheduled to marry his longtime fiancée Emily (Cusack) within three days.

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This year marks GOLDFINGER's 50th anniversary, the third BOND film after Dr. No. (1962) and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), however, it is my first encounter with Sean Connery's ironic Bond impersonation, but is this the best Bond film ever? Not in a million years, I daresay. Hiring a German actor (Fröbe) to play the kingpin Goldfinger with his Cantonese-babbling henchmen and a Korean muscleman Oddjob (Sakata), the film's premise is not only politically incorrect and logically peculiar.
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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson has been steadfastly honing his finesse since the outset of his career starting from BOTTLE ROCKET (1996) when he was only 27, from then, this wunderkind's filmography has flourished healthily, presently he is among the most successful auteur in US indie ground and internationally his fame also balloons with his audience, his eighth feature THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, this year Berlin International Film Festival's opening film (and Grand Jury Prize winner) and a genuine box-office triumph, indicates he is not slowing down in any aspect.
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22 Jump Street

A torrid weekend, the best recreation is a cinema getaway in the local multiplex, the options are paltry, having no slightest interest in the fourth TRANSFORMERS juggernaut, I have to choose between two sequels, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 or this one, it is a tough choice, I enjoyed HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010, 8/10) thoroughly, but due to a recent impassivity towards animations, eventually I opt for the latter albeit I have yet watched its predecessor, a Hollywood comedy might be the elixir to quench the summer lethargy.
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Gang de qin (The Piano In A Factory)

THE PIANO IN A FACTORY, is the second film from the young Chinese writer-director Meng Zhang, and had made a splash when its leading actor Qianyuan Wang won a coveted BEST ACTOR AWARD at Tokyo International Film Festival in 2010, but delayed for half a year until its theatre release, it crashed and burned in the box office which stimulated another shouting diatribe on the unhealthy status quo which bars art-house films from seizing a sizeable piece of cake in the prosperous mainland cinema market. Without a booming front-loaded attendance, these movies will be replaced by more popular fares merely within a few days of release thanks to cinema managers' money-seeking priority.
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The Band's Visit

Out of the context of Egypt and Israel's historical feud, this succinct awards-winning film (87 minutes) debut from Eran Kolirin may seem to be a prosaic essay about an unfulfilled romance with a few light touches on the quotidian lives in a rural Israeli town through the eyes of a band composed of members of the Egyptian Police Force from Alexandria, who are invited for a cultural event in Petah Tiqva.
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The Long, Hot Summer

A Pride and Prejudice love story sited in Mississippi in the 1940s, can only cover half of this film's hub, directed by the famous "Orson tamer" Martin Ritt (MURPHY'S ROMANCE, 7/10), the other half is about a rough-diamond father's eagerness to marry off his maiden daughter and give an impetus to his incompetent son. The story impresses with a contingent proposition of provincial male chauvinism and women's self-liberated modern viewing, but a gratifying finale dents its eloquence and leaves a sour taste of bathos.

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High Art
High Art(1998)

There have been almost 4 years since lesbian director/writer Lisa Cholodenko's mainstream breakthrough dramedy THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (2010, 9/10), and we still have no clue of her follow-up, she might be in a writer's block, so I root out her 1998 director debut HIGH ART, a post-modern romance between Syd (Mitchell), a greenhorn assistant editor of Frame magazine and a hedonistic former photographer Lucy (Sheedy) in Manhattan.
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August: Osage County

Any film adapted from an awards-winning play is prominently a fertile ground for any decent thespians to seize various meaty roles and to be transported to the road to Oscar and Weinstein company is unrivalled for this manuveur, last year's surefire is AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, and ends up adding a solid brick to Streep's insuperable nomination record for actors, now ups to 18 (and keeps surging), and a welcome-back recognition for an over-the-hill Julia Roberts (once the most bankable female movie star in Hollywood if younger generation is oblivious about that).
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The Postman Always Rings Twice

A double-bill of two vintage films adapted from James M. Cain's 1934 novel THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RING TWICE, 1946's Hollywood B&W version and Visconti's groundbreaking debut in 1943, while intentionally evade the less-championed 1981 remake with Nicholson and Lange.
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A double-bill of two vintage films adapted from James M. Cain's 1934 novel THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RING TWICE, 1946's Hollywood B&W version and Visconti's groundbreaking debut in 1943, while intentionally evade the less-championed 1981 remake with Nicholson and Lange.
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Nymphomaniac: Volume I

A 4-hour binge watching of provocateur Lars von Trier's latest feminist saga (divided into two volumes) is a candid confession of a middle-age nymphomaniac Joe (Gainsbourg, doughtily consummates her enthralling rendering in von Trier's Trilogy of Depression, after ANTICHRIST 2009 and MELANCHOLIA 2011, 8/10), out of self-hatred, she chronicles her deviant life from childhood to present, to an elder Jewish polymath Seligman (Skarsgård), who brings her home after finding her lying on the street afflicted from a savage assault.
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Nymphomaniac: Volume II

A 4-hour binge watching of provocateur Lars von Trier's latest feminist saga (divided into two volumes) is a candid confession of a middle-age nymphomaniac Joe (Gainsbourg, doughtily consummates her enthralling rendering in von Trier's Trilogy of Depression, after ANTICHRIST 2009 and MELANCHOLIA 2011, 8/10), out of self-hatred, she chronicles her deviant life from childhood to present, to an elder Jewish polymath Seligman (Skarsgård), who brings her home after finding her lying on the street afflicted from a savage assault.
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A Brighter Summer Day

A 228 minutes saga from the late Taiwanese director Edward Yang (Yi Yi 2000, 10/10; A CONFUCIAN'S CONFUSION 1994, 8/10), A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY, whose literal translation of its original Chinese title is "The Murder Incident of the Boy on Guling Street", is based on a true event in the 1960s, a 14-year-old boy murdered his 13-year-old girlfriend, and became the first juvenile offender served in jail since millions of mainland Chinese retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after the civil war.
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The Wolf of Wall Street

After dumping his longtime companion Robert De Niro for the hey-day Leonardo DiCaprio in the naughties, Martin Scorsese embarks on a series of ambitious enterprises to earn his overdue Oscar statuette, finally third time is a charm, THE DEPARTED (2006, 8/10) achieved that goal, but poor Leo is still Oscar-less, so their fifth teamwork is THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, an excessive satire of Jordan Belfort's autobiography, a former Wall Street stock-broker's rise and fall from 1980s to 1990s, which grants Leo the uppermost leniency to embody this corrupted, decadent and indecent character with inordinate excess and extravaganza, unfortunately, Leo's time has yet arrived.

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Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

Action-packed summer tentpoles continue with EDGE OF TOMORROW, Tom Cruise stars in this hardcore alien slasher (with an estimated exorbitant budget of $178,000,000), directed by THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002, 8/10) alum Doug Liman, although it has been dead on arrival in the domestic box office, Tom Cruise' more appealing international star-power can be the last straw to make the ends meet.
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What leads me to watch this film is Dianne Wiest's singular Oscar-nomination, how rare a mainstream comedy stars Steve Martin could generate an Oscar-caliber performance? Is it as eccentrically diverting as Marisa Tomei in MY COUSIN VINNY (1992, 7/10) or a rowdy and raunchy scene-stealer as Melissa McCarthy in BRIDESMAIDS (2011, 7/10)? Neither is the case here, thus the answer could only be that it is Academy's honeymoon period with Wiest, who has just won an Oscar 3 years earlier for Woody Allen's HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986, 8/10) and would harvest her second trophy pretty soon in another Allen's satire BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994, 8/10). read rest of my review on my blog:


A quite long absence from big screen, since THE TOURIST (2010, 7/10), Angelina Jolie is back with this unorthodox adaption of Grimm Brothers Sleeping Beauty fairytale, parades her overpowering belligerence and devilish look, retells the story from the angle of the villain Maleficent, an evil fairy (with two giant horns) who puts the sleeping spell on princess Aurora (Fanning) in order to pay back to her father King Stefan (Copley) for his brutal betrayal.
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Zorba the Greek

A built-in defect of this film adaption from the source novel ALEXIS ZORBAS by Nikos Kazantzakis is its utterly invidious treatment of its female characters, indisputably it was more acceptable in a male-chauvinistic backwater when it was released in the 60s (a 7 Oscar-nominations including BEST PICTURE, DIRECTOR, LEADING ACTOR for Quiin and SCREENPLAY with 3 wins), but it sheerly renders its modern-day audience a mouthful taste of misogyny and xenophobia, to which director Kakogiannis uncompromisingly adhere.
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Blue Is The Warmest Color

Last year's Palme d'or winner, the much-hyped French lesbian drama directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, about a high-schooler, Adèle (Exarchopoulos)'s discovery of her sexuality through a heartfelt relationship with Emma (Seydoux), an art college student, it is a visceral rite-of-passage eloquently elaborated in 179 minutes, details a thoroughly poignant metamorphosis of Adèle, from green adolescence to womanhood, and under the parameter of Kechiche's truth-capture tack, unyielding close-ups and hand-held cameras faithfully records the normality of Adèle's daily life.
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The Monuments Men

It is a bummer when 20th Century Fox rescheduled Clooney's fifth director endeavour THE MONUMENTS MEN into a lukewarm February release, bodes ill for its craftsmanship which may not up to Oscar's calibre. But gauging from its stellar cast, a more probable upshot could be a fun-loving teamwork like OCEAN 11-13 fanfare, yet, it does't even achieve this lesser goal.
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Saving Mr. Banks

First of all, it is an absurd travesty to exclude Emma Thompson in the BEST LEADING ACTRESS nomination list this year by the Academy members, she campaigned rather hard in the awards season, she is a revered two-times winner and the film is exhaustively friendly towards the academy members, considering FINDING NEVERLAND (2004, 7/10), the story behind another children classic Peter Pan. And most essentially, she is at the top of her game in depicting a quite unlikeable character, the high and mighty spinster P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins books.
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Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

After his latest feature WINTER SLEEP (2014) won Palme d'Or this year, there is no better timing to assess Nuri Bilge Ceylan's previous works, personally I was daunted by my first experience with his film, THREE MONKEYS (2008, 6/10), so until now I dare to stride a second step, here comes his 2011 crime-drama.
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X-Men: Days of Future Past

After Matthew Vaughn's X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011, 7/10) transposes the mutants' universe into 1960s and allows some new blood to play their younger selves, X-MEN series has officially opened a new chapter. Three years later, the original helmer (X-MEN 2000, 7/10 and X2 2003, 7/10) Bryan Singer returns to the director chair to push a reset button to nullify all the damages done by Brett Ratner's X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006, 7/10). In this latest episode, the story devises a time-travel mission to the past in order to save the entire world from the Sentinel apocalypse.
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The Heat
The Heat(2013)

Sandy B is back in the saddle as an all-powering comedienne alongside her Oscar-friendly intrepid astronaut in GRAVITY (2013, 9/10), in THE HEAT, she plays Ashburn, an F.B.I. agent, a divorced career woman and even more strait-laced than Grace Hart in MISS CONGENIALITY series, directed by Paul Feig who has brought us the sleeper-hit comedy BRIDESMAIDS (2011, 7/10), which has ricocheted the scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy onto a rarefied leading actress status in the primarily male-domineering comedy branch, who has successfully discharged a one-two punch in the domestic box-office last year with generous profits, this one and the critics-panned IDENTITY THIEF (2013).

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It is a 1975 film directed by Hal Ashy (BEING THERE 1979, 8/10), stars Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, and his then-lover Julie Christie, with an Oscar winning performance by Lee Grant and an Oscar-nominated turn by the perpetual character actor Jack Warden, sounds appealing to any cinephile, right? Yet SHAMPOO, not unlike its characters' utterly outmoded hairstyle, is a mediocre downer, which makes Grant's Oscar triumph looks like a fishy consolation prize for the sake of her career achievements.
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The Rules of the Game (La règle du jeu)

Renoir's almost-lost pre-WWII demoralising comedy is the introductory piece invites me for a first glance into his everlasting cinematic legacy. After numerous reconstruction, the extant version of THE RULES OF THE GAME is nearly intact, the narrative circles around a bourgeois couple Robert de la Cheyniest (Dalio) and Christine (Gregor), who invite their friends and kins to the countryside chateau for a leisurely sojourn, yet it is an acrid send-up of the callousness and duplicity of French society at that time, an exceptional chamber drama which anticipates the likes of Altman's GOSFORD PARK (2001, 9/10) and Woody Allen-esque moral satires.
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A 3D screening in the multiplex, overall impression is that the screen is a bit murky, and the images are slightly muted, less natural than THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014, 6/10). 2014 marks the 60th birthday of this made-in-Japan mega-monster, GODZILLA, a Hollywood revival directed by Gareth Edwards, whose mini-budget feature debut MONSTERS (2010) secures him the foray into presiding a mammoth mainstream production and the upshot is a satisfactory visual spectacle, potently depicts an catastrophic final melee in San Francisco but a flaccid script shortchanges its solid cast.
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Spike Jonez's fourth director feature, after BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999, 9/10), ADAPTATION. (2002, 8/10), WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (2009, 5/10), is his first where himself is credited as both the director and the sole writer. HER is situated in L.A. in the near future (in fact some scenes are shot in Shanghai), Theodore (Phoenix), is a writer for the, a melancholic and lonely guy who has just undergone a breakup with his ex-wife Catherine (Mara). Out of despondency, he purchases a state-of-the-art Operation System with intellectual consciousness whose self-coined name is Samantha (voiced by a phenomenal Johansson), which henceforth embarks an authentic romance between those two, on a trajectory as any human does with another human.
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Trapped in Paradise

What's the odds to watch a relatively unknown Christmas comedy from a director I have never heard of as there are tons of much more appealing options there, yet fate guides me to watch this one, 20 years ago, Nicholas Cage, John Lovitz and Dana Carvey star as three brothers in TRAPPED IN PARADISE, here, Paradise refers to a small town where (almost) everyone is extremely nice and bonhomie and hospitality abound.

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Me, Myself and Mum

Winning 5 trophies of César Awards this year including BEST FILM (fending off tough competitors like STRANGER BY THE LAKE 2013, 8/10; THE PAST 2013, 8/10 and BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR 2013) and BEST ACTOR, for the director-debut of triple threat farceur Guillaume Gallienne (director, writer and leading actor), and more strikingly, he plays two opposite roles, Guillaume and his mother.
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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Funny thing is that I haven't watch CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), but the raving reviews of this sequel lured me into the cinema, but unfortunately monopolised by a 3D-exclusive treatment here in Egypt.

First of all, what is the real motivation behind the scheme of Alexander Pierce (Redford), the evil mind working for the HYDRA organisation, the foe of the S.H.I.E.L.D. apparatus? Randomly obliterate a few citizens, for what? As in THE AVENGERS (2012, 5/10), probably in the entire Marvel's kingdom, it gets harder and harder to create any refreshing motive for its super-villains, sometimes, all the intelligence of those sinister brains is undercut by manufacturing overly-elaborate and secretive schemes which end up in as some more or less preposterous mess. Anyway, it is not a main problem since the picture is a superlatively polished action flick, laden with stunning visual spectacles, anything else all reduces to plot device to impel the narrative slide on its designed trajectory as planned.

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Madonna's second film as a director, after the little seen FILTH AND WISDOM (2008). W.E. is her much more ambitious venture commingles Wally (Cornish), a modern woman's self-liberation from a dead water marriage and the scandalous love affair between American divorcée Wallis Simpson (Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (D'Arcy) which causes a constitutional crisis in the history.

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One may not truly enjoy this South Korean director Joon-ho Bong's first English-speaking film, if he or she is persistently bugged by the illogical and unscientific milieu of its source comic book series "Le Transperceneige" - all extant human beings are dwelling on a non-stop train "Snowpiercer" in the near future, which energised by a perpetually functional engine. But if one can accept the premise, this coach-by-coach advancing insurgence will be a haunting roller-coaster ride with an untenable final twist.
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Following suit of TWILIGHT SAGA and THE HUNGER GAMES, another young adult franchise embarks on its lucrative conquest, DIVERGENT, shares the same dystopia milieu in the future as THE HUNGER GAMES and a teenage female protagonist, Tris (Woodley), who fights to be fit in a world divided by five factions according to five virtues (erudite, dauntless, amity, abnegation and candour), but she is born to be a maverick who defies categorisation and is so-called a divergent. She joins the Dauntless and meets the mysterious Four (James), the trainer of the initiates, together their romance is budding through the training programs; then they discover Erudite leader Jeanne (Winslet) is scheming to annihilate and usurp the Abnegation faction (which is the present authority and where Tris' parents belong) to be the ruling class, meanwhile Dauntless members are hypnotised as the killing machine, only the divergent are immune to it. So by the end of the first chapter of the trilogy, they temporarily sabotage Jeanne's plan, which persists in eradicating the weakness aka. human nature out of human beings, but as cheesy as it sounds, actually love cannot be eradicated.

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The Adventures of Robin Hood

The knee-jerking reaction of watching this Technicolor swashbuckler is holy cow how is it possible this picture was made in 1938? Its brightly rich palette, advanced back projection technology, meticulously tailored garments and detailed mise en scène, must be cutting-edge and it did cost a great amount of fortune to make it happen, the most expensive film for WARNER BROS. at its time, but the reward was also colossal.

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American Hustle

AMERICAN HUSTLE has an impeachable cast, a 70s zeitgeist ambience (sterling soundtrack, hairstyling and wardrobe selections), a not-so-bulletproof script, but the film is nonetheless a hail of David O'Russell's consistency in his endeavour of characters-centred dramedy, he relentlessly supplies improvisations for his actors to illicit their spontaneous interactions with maximum dynamism, meanwhile his slick camera mobility complements the narrative steadily with intentional oomph to woo the audience, a strategy functions unexpectedly well after the one-two punch THE FIGHTER (2010, 8/10) and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012, 7/10), now AMERICAN HUSTLE repeats the mojo, altogether ricochet him to the rarefied echelon of a three-times BEST DIRECTOR nominees, and an auteur status rosily awaits.
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An Ealing Studio comedy in 1953, about a annual vintage car rally from London to Brighton and back in two days on a sunny weekend, which is the most exciting activity for lawyer Alan(Gregson) and his best friend Ambrose (More), but for ladies, Alan's wife Wendy (Sheridan) and Ambrose's new date Rosalind (Kendall), they are less psyched, a gesture of support means they cannot renege their full participation.
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Death Becomes Her

The overhanging message of this Zemeckis' dark comedy is "if a woman doesn't have ageless skin, immortality means nothing", that doesn't smell politically correct, right?

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The Prince's Manuscript (Il Manoscritto Del Principe)

This film is a hagiography of Giuseppe Tomasi (Bouquet), the prince of Lampedusa, who is the author of Il gattopardo, one of the most influential Italian novel of XX century and is adapted on screen by Visconti, THE LEOPARD (1963, 8/10). Directed by Roberto Andò, a native from Palermo, stars two French cinema icons Bouquet and Moreau (as the princess Licy). read the rest of the review here:

Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro)

Palme d'Or and Oscar's BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM (although it should have been rewarded to Brazil instead of France) double-honour is a tremendous wow factor to lure in cinephiles, but sometimes the prestige backfires, the film may introduce Samba and Boss Nova to the world, but how can it overshadows an awkward truth, it won over 400 BLOWS (1959, 9/10) in the Cannes competition, a mania of over-exploited exoticism may be the answer.
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Somewhere in Time

A love story transcends time and beyond, what if you and your significant other are not in the same timeline? SOMEWHERE IN TIME tells a tale of this sort, Chicago 1972, a budding playwright Richard Collier (Reeve) receives a pocket watch from an old lady he has never met before, who asks him "come back to me". 8 years later, Richard found out she was a famous stage Actress Elise McKenna, and passed away the night they met. Obsessed with her portrait in Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, Richard opts for self-hypnosis to time-travel to 1912, when young Elise (Seymour) is going to perform in the theatre of the hotel.
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My first cinema-going in Cairo in a rather mini-screen room downtown, my big-screen attendance needs to be revived, but in this arid season, the only credible choice (for me at least) is this Liam Neeson's action flick, very pertinent to the current mystifying tragedy of Malaysian airline's missing Boeing 777-200ER, and not the least because my goddess Moore is in it too, returns the favour to Neeson as a red-herring-and-the-possible-love-interest in it after their largely overlooked collaboration in Atom Egoyan's erotic thriller CHLOE (2009, 7/10), oops, spoilers alert!
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My Beautiful Laundrette

Under the iron curtain of Thatcherism in the 1980s, UK veteran Stephen Frears' fourth feature film is an ethnic barrier-breaker in the world queer cinema, much as its fervid confrontations between races and social classes, the central closeted romance between an ex-punk Johnny (Day-Lewis) and a Pakistani Briton Omar (Warnecke) is nurtured with robust intimacy and élan.

Enclosed by a synth-pop heavy pulse, the film starts with Johnny and his gang being expelled from their squatting apartment by some heavies, a similar territory Daniel Day-Lewis would retread in IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER (1993), then cutting to introduce another protagonist, Omar, a college dropout sent to work for his uncle Nasser (Jaffrey) by his bed-ridden father (Seth), a disillusioned idealist and leftist), in Nasser's car-washing lot, Omar meets Nasser's business partner Salim (Branche), a menacing and overbearing bully who conducts some seedy business and Nasser's mistress Rachel (Anne Field), who assumes a quite modernized view of being the other woman, but the entire entanglement will end up with some ludicrous witchcraft.

Omar is ambitious and fast-learning, soon he gets the permission to run Nasser's dilapidated laundromat, and reunites with Johnny, who has been his best friend since childhood, together they embezzle the dough from Salim's underhand drug smuggling and refurbish the laundrette and make a successful business, their romance is also rekindled. But at the same time, Omar is obliged by Nasser to marry his disobedient daughter Tania (Wolf), and Johnny is reckoned as a betrayer by his ne'er-do-well gang members since he is working for Palestinians (also as an unscrewer for kick out Nasser's impecunious tenants), in addition to the conflict between Omar and Salim, there will be blood in the end.

Violence is a requisite in depicting the gulf between well-off immigrants and poverty-stricken native malcontents, xenophobia, racial bias and chauvinism, all can be easily related and incited under the harsh environs, but Frears doesn't attempt to make a point by resorting too much to the excesses, whereas the tender, masculine attraction between two men is rendered with cozy panache and passion, truly, it is an in-the-closet relationship, but it is not about coming-out or AIDs, these routine trappings of the era, their future might be a moot point, however, the virtue of their love strikes as comfortingly authentic and endearing, thanks to the great pair Warnecke and Day-Lewis, one is resolutely sincere and the other is overwhelmingly charismatic, they do make a desirable couple together! Juxtaposed with its peers like MAURICE (1987, 7/10) and ANOTHER COUNTRY (1984, 8/10), MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE's grassroots ambience and buoyant undertones applicably complement the missing piece of the UK queer cinema menagerie, not revolutionary, but a wonderful bliss indeed.

The Prince and the Showgirl

When the behind-the-scene anecdotes are appreciably more stimulating than the film itself, it is not a good sign, so I may address MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011, 6/10) should be a better choice (for contemporary audiences), barring suckers for Ms. Monroe or Sir Olivier. How come Olivier was swept off his feet by Monroe during the shooting of this film? The ignominious scandal cast a fissure on his marriage with Vivien Leigh, which ultimately ended in 1961 and to a great extent prompted Leigh's untimely demise at the age of 54 in 1967, so the real life is far crueller than this saccharine period-romance between a regent prince from a fictitious country Carpathia and an US showgirl from the Coconut Girl Club, all happens in London during his visit for the coronation of the new British King in 1911.

It is a project tailor-made for Ms. Monroe and she was in her pinnacle at then, while most certainly Sir Laurence Olivier came on board as the leading man to reprise his role from the original play (Leigh was brushed aside due to her age, so Monroe was cast instead, it was is really a man man man's world), however it is rather an odd choice for him to monopolise the director chair since it is absolutely not his wheelhouse, a romantic comedy must be a tint two-bit for his Shakespearean standard. Maybe his real intent was never on the film but the red-hot sexpot, Marilyn Monroe.

Regarding the personal life, it was not a placid phase for Marilyn either (check MY WEEK WITH MARILYN for a deep look), but she definitely goes to all lengths to invigorate her character, Elsie, she is the breezy messenger, the emblem of foolproof love, with her buxom curves and halfwitted ingénue persona, one might not say she is the one-of-a-kind type of genius, but certainly she is the fortuitous making of her era, an icon can not be emulated in our times. Sir Olivier, wallows in his customary tactics, being deadpan serious in a condescending form, and genteelly articulating the banal dialogue as if he means it, we can endure the mincing and posturing of Monroe, but for him, it totally jars with the overall tonality and the chemistry between these two people with irreconcilable disparities never scintillates on the screen, the old-hat way of acting does double up the running-time.

Anyway, there is still the bright side, Sybil Thorndike as the Queen Dowager, the mother-in-law of the Regent, controls a timely comic effort whenever she is released to preside the scenes, and those moments are golden! A fresh-faced Jeremy Spenser (as King Nicolas, the son of the Regent) is strikingly dashing in the uniform, he is the only surviving cast of the film with us now. After all its regal extravaganza, garish costumes and ornaments, the preposterous post-production and erratic editing hiccups stick out ridiculously, some chuckling could be wrung from the picture in any case.

Violette (Violette Nozière)

It is an atrociously unlawful act depicted in Chabrol's sensational melodrama, the based-on-a-true-story type (a murder case in 1933) which would usually generate a slew of horrific feedback in the social news commentary, about an adolescent girl poisons her parents in order to back up her gold-digger boyfriend to elope together.

What makes the film so gravely provocative is the entire scheme of Violette (Huppert) seems so juvenile and wanton, the viciousness is inexorable and beyond any logical solace. Violette is a lackadaisical, apolitical and promiscuous teenager, although at the age of 24, Huppert is unbecoming to pass for the role, but Chabrol adroitly restyles Violette with a more precocious patina, the dexterous transition between the good girl veneer when she is with her parents and the motel-hogging and man-hunting hussy potently incites Huppert's chameleonic escapade, each and every single frame zooms in on her unprovoked aloofness and obtrusive sex appeal. She is perpetually indulging in her own pathetic realm, sneers at her parents' clumsy intercourse and disgruntled at their ordinary petit bourgeois trivia, she is in an impetuous situation to find an egress, but the man in her dreams is a major disappointment as viewers all being well-informed in advance, it is money he is on the lookout for. The affair is doomed to futility, in some sense Violette knows it fairly well, but it is the defects (the egocentric selfishness, deep-rooted misanthrope and diabolic cruelty) in her character blind her sight, poison her mind and abet her into carrying on the abhorrent action.

After the murder plan goes as expected and the lousy gas-accident cover-up, Germaine, the mother (Audran) survives the poison, it is not a detective story after all, instead, it is an awkward moment of facing the truth, but Violette's vituperative accusation to her late father (Carmet) in order to justify her motive shatters all the expectation if there is any mercifulness left in her, she is an archetype of the malevolent side of human nature, an anomaly which defies all the logical interpretation, she and Dr. Hannibal Lecter can be an adorable couple!

Stéphane Audran, whom I just appraised for her delicate performance in BABETTE'S FEAST (1987, 8/10), is astounding here as the overbearing but doting mother of Violette, she is the one we can mostly project our compassion on, yet, we might also prompt to question her tutelage, perhaps she is at least partially responsible for the decadence of her sole daughter, how Violette's double act (constantly stays in motels and hangs out someone the parents have never met) can blatantly evade a mother's instinctive nature is a shade bemusing, not to mention the intaking of unknown medicine for the sake of hereditary syphilis, at least verify with the doctor first (and in this case, both parents are too unmindful)!

New to the canon of Claude Chabrol, the pick of VIOLETTE may not be the optimum starter, the disrupted narrative never fully register any excitement barring a bitter aftertaste and shocking values of the subject matter, its foremost merit is to grant Huppert a stage to unleash her glacial pulchritude, which one can appreciate from every unyielding close-up on her, and comfortingly augurs an eminent career for her as crème de la crème of the French cinema, her screen magnetism is inherent.


A bravura and toasty comeback to the zenith of Disneyland, FROZEN, the freshly BEST ANIMATION PICTURE crowner in the Academy Awards, has already swept the globe with its colossal box-office gross and the ultra-appealing theme song LET IT GO, it also signals the first time for our beloved animation tentpole, a lovey-dovey boilerplate of a princess in the quest for her Prince Charming is preponderated by the bond between princess Anna and her sister, the Ice Queen Elsa, a more broad and wholesome act of true love.

Step into the shoes of the cutting-edge sub-brand Pixar, whose BRAVE (2012, 8/10) heralds a trend whereby a female heroine can break the shackles of looking for male suitor as the one and only goal for life. FROZEN goes for a more ambitious yet crucial route to accentuate the courage of embracing yourself as who you are, no matter how different you are from the rest, shut down your heart and lock yourself up in an isolated kingdom is not a way out. Such a valuable message can be widely assimilated among viewers while the roots remain Disney-esque, tuneful and catchy musical numbers with routine delivery, prominent sidekicks fittingly align with the protagonists, like Olaf, the snowman naively thirsts for summer and sunlight, the contribution of Josh Gad's voice cannot go unnoticed.

Veteran animator Chris Buck teams up with the first-time director Jennifer Lee, together they construe Hans Christian Andersen's popular fairytale (The Ice Queen) into a visually variegated adventure, minimize the cliché-ridden flourishes which commonly embellish the leitmotif (no redundant sub-plots to slow down the narrative pace). The story progresses in a wonted and linear approach, yet the whole journey is never in deficiency of enchantment, while the plot is fairly more twisty than Disney's usual fare, a key revelation against the grain can blindside audiences without a hitch.

The voice-cast are enjoyable despite that Menzel's voice is overtly too old for Elsa, it is also a plucky move to cast an openly out actor (Groff) to dub the valiant reindeer rider as Anna's genuine soulmate and love-interest, along with the connotation for a more nondiscriminatory society extracted from the pith of its tale, FROZEN is a cinematic hero of our times, a film reaches a much broader demography and transcends its general raison d' être, it may indeed positively refine our world into a more civilized tier and it is no end of virtuous achievements!

Babette's Feast (Babettes Gæstebud)

A tribute to the late Danish director Gabriel Axel, BABETTE'S FEAST is the paramount legacy left by him to us, an Academy BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE winner, a chant implies us what sense of taste could evoke a religious epiphany. It is a ritually ceremonious fare renders us warmth and serenity without the customary sanctimony or doctrinaire preaching, a crowd-pleaser dauntingly satiates the audience's aesthetics irrespective of their religious disparities.

A dour and self-sacrificing manner of living in an isolated village, Flippa (Kjer) and Martine (Federspiel) are two spinster sisters adhere to the holy cause of their late father (Kern), sermonize local believers. Narrated by a poised and tranquilizing voiceover, through Flippa and Martine's episodic and never-fully-blossomed romance with two gentlemen in their youth, not only we witness their tested devotedness to the conviction, but also it gently sets the context for the arrival of Babette (Audran), a French fugitive seeks for refugee during the wartime, who voluntarily serves the sisters as a housemaid, until she wins a lottery and decides to prepare a genuine French feast for the sisters and their followers, who are dumbfounded at the sheer exotic and exquisite banquet, and the comical and scintillating vibes of their apprehension towards the unknown treat and protean reactions after savoring each course are depicted in a self-effacing but divinely innocuous mode. We might not all enthusiasts of French cuisine, however, the contradiction can never be more wisely enjoyable.

The performances are rigidly rehearsed, a mite of histrionics but overall, there are nothing but amiable characters, Audran imbues a underplayed enactment of a woman afflicted by the most atrocious trauma, but hides them all under her worldly facade, even in a foreign country, she spunkily embraces her life without compromise. Kjer and Federspiel pair up harmoniously in their saint-like personae, embody all the virtues with compelling grace and benevolence. Jarl Kulle uniformly eloquent as Gen. Lorens Löwenhielm, a true gourmet guides the devotees into an emulating farce of a viscerally gustatory escapade, and the real-life baritone Jean-Philippe Lafont imprints a gleeful tonality as a maestro stumbles on a hidden gem which contritely he can never possess.

It is simply a winsome bucolic prose with minimal adornment, encompassed with pictorial shots of rural scenery, still-life scrutiny and rigorous portrayal, enchants us with empyrean hymns, but emotionally BABETTE'S FEAST is immensely opulent, an ethereal fable oozes humanity and compassion can feasibly strike a chord in any heart with perspicacious pulsation, RIP Gabriel Axel, may thou will be feted with a feast in heaven too.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Coming to cinema two months later in Mainland China, the second chapter of THE HOBBIT TRILOGY is poised to prevail the box office in a rather lethargic period after the red-hot Chinese Spring Fe festival.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012, 6/10) is a relentless roller-coaster ride with a slew of visual stunts to propel a succinct plot, which doesn't live up to the expectation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS' Middle Earth triumphant standing, also Peter Jackson's innovative shooting technology has received with some resistance and negative feedbacks. The second round, a 3D version is all we have in China, the palette is light-toned, the textual sharpness hasn't been refined from the first one, a tad dim and the same landscape doesn't register the same rapt effect anymore.

Nevertheless, the film is an ameliorated update from AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, not simply because of Smaug's imposing grandeur and droll garrulousness (voiced by a malignantly intoning Cumberbatch). The plain narration bifurcates from the early start, when Gandalf (McKellen) detaches from the rest of the expedition on a solitary quest, as it often pans out, the journey without the omnipotent grey wizard galvanizes more excitement and comic relief. The action set pieces are imbued with sufficient antics in the barrel cruise, the comeback of Legolas (Bloom) and a freshly coined female elf Tauriel (Lilly) reinforces audience's modern aesthetic as a welcoming love triangle among the two and a handsome (and slightly taller-than-average) dwarf Kili (Turner) is a clever deployment to gratify a touch of romanticism and conforms with the topical love equity enthusiasm. The pulchritude of slaughtering orcs with dexterous archery can never stultify the viewers.

When Bilbo (Freeman) lurches into Smaug's turf to exert his burglar role, it prompts the zenith with the disparate duel between the dwarf pack and the indomitable fire-generator, it is also worth mentioning the dissonant atmosphere between Bilbo and Thorin (Armitage), is the hobbit only an expedient pawn for Thorin's stout-hearted vengeance to reclaim his kingdom, or the boundary of species can be breached through Bilbo's valorous altruism? Let's wait and see what will happen in the final venture.

This time, one might be able to distinguish the 13 dwarfs more easily besides Thorin, Balin (Stott), Kili and Fili (O'Gorman), Freeman is consistently indulged in his invisible vantage with the ring, while McKellen's Gandalf has some perilous path to overcome. The film is properly enlightened by several new characters, apart from Tauriel's apropos feminine touch, Bard (Evans) is the key character introduced here, and for certain his import in the finale is well hinted although we haven't seen too much potential in him yet. And it is always a delight to watch Stephen Fry, sketchily appears as the Master of Laketown, quips with his insidious underling Alfrid (Gage).

As a middle section of a trilogy, this film actually skirts the conundrum of being left in the epic and enmeshed background without a certain closure to end the film itself, it is both satisfied to see to a not out-and-out victory and intrigued to imagine what will happen when the dragon is released to a more spacious scale, all magnetizes its core audience to return for a third time.

The Exterminating Angel (El Ángel Exterminador)

A Bruñuel school's invitation is always becoming for any cinephile's reservoir, currently this film marks my fourth entrance into his territory after the lesser approachable THE MILKY WAY (1969, 6/10), THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL is an outstanding surrealism allegory, Bruñuel maneuvers a sleight of hand with sheer simplicity, the entire story is predominantly crammed in a living room of a regal mansion, the owners Lucía (Gallardo) and Edmundo (Rambal) host a dinner party for 20 middle-class guests. Bizarrely the party never ends, all of them, with the steward Julio (Brook) are incarcerated in the living room, whoever intends to get out of the room, will involuntarily alter his mind to stay, meanwhile for the people outside, the same mysteriously inexplicable force hedges them from entering too.

Trapped in this claustrophobic space, the coexistence turns sour with time ruthless consuming the sustenance, the energy and the etiquette, simultaneously squabbles, vituperation, oneiric hallucinations, suicidal tendency and roughhousing all come to the fore (Bruñuel could go to extreme with cannibalism but he chose to refrain), the procedure of everyone takes off their facade and betrays their true self is excruciatingly riveting, the film could scale new heights as a superb probing essay on human nature if Bruñuel cared to exhume deeper to each character's meaty backstory (the fraternal hint, the flirtatious lady with terminal cancer, the undercurrent of adultery between the hostess and the Colonel, a votive trip to Lordes, the before/after reaction of taking the ulcer pills, not to mention the "La Valkiria" Leticia played by the first-billed Silvia Pinal, there are a slew of untold scandals are in need of elaboration). Instead the upshot is executed with a much murkier distinction, conspicuously they are all pawns in Bruñuel's storybook, it is rather an exacting task to distinguish all the different roles from a first-viewing, if only Robert Altman would do a remake, and expunge the political metaphor of the ending, then it would be transformed into a highly-watchable character analysis and an incisive farce with eye-dropping theatrical showpieces.

Of course Bruñuel's mastery is omnipresent in the film, the superimposition shot of a clear sky upon a facial portrait, the outlandish amalgam of lambs and a baby bear, and the creative approach to offer a vent to let them out (a Paradisi's sonata is the turning point), until the climax, we all realize it is just a trial run, and the denouement is a dual indictment on undiscerning religious belief and the political status quo at then, pepped up with a palpable feeling of hopelessness.

Also the slap to the bourgeois is loud and clear since the film's opening, it is the servants who are sentient of the pending uncanniness, and urge to leave the house as soon as possible, only the obtuse are being entrapped by the almighty trickster. Then what happens to the hoi polloi in the church? The purge is more generic or we should merely stop over-interpretation? Anyway who needs a concrete answer as long as Bruñuel is concerned.

The Great Beauty

After his tepid foray into America (THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, 2011), Paolo Sorrentino returns to Rome, confects his latest film, LA GRANDE BELLEZZA, a rambling fresco about the menagerie of events around Jep Gambardella (Servillo), a one-time writer and a successful journalist. Jep is an urbane hipster habituates in nightlife, a spouseless socialite, both an adroit party thrower and avid participant, but what has changed since his 65-year-old birthday? He begins to meditate on the existential meaning of his life, through his eyes, we are invited to probe the unseen vista of the middle-class' decadence in the urban Roman society, it is a ritual, sentimental prose, plus an ode to the foregone glory.

As a man with certain social status, Jep descends into nostalgic about the past, especially when he learns the death of his first lover, he recollects his memory of her, and meets a middle-aged stripper Ramona (Ferilli), who is an unwonted idealist with an enigmatic secret (not her intimacy with Botox obviously). They form a platonic relationship, romanticizes the ideal of love instead of making love. There are other facet of Jep's life which concerns his friends, his pygmy boss Dadina (Vignola), an affluent widow Viola (Villoresi) with her radical son Andrea (Marinelli), the condescending Stefania (Ranzi), the lascivious Lello Cava (Buccirosso) with his wife Trumeau (Forte) and Romano (Verdone), an ill-fated writer. They all have their episodic presence in Jep's life, their stories are more or less expanded but never elaborated.

The portmanteau structure meanders over 2 hours, like a night cruise, sometimes we admire, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we indulge, not that the narrative matters, as if Sorrentino has a non-stop palliative generator to peddle viewers its pills to be enchanted with petrifying exquisiteness (from the body-swirling parties, then a giraffe disappears in a jiffy to the magical flamingos summoned by the wizened Saint), idiosyncratic modern art (Talia Concept, a kid's performance art and Ron Sweet's self-portrait exhibition, or maybe the Botox clinic, looks like a wacky play), and not to mention the groovy shindigs, all arrayed in painterly compositions, but Jep is not among all of this, he is an onlooker, a parvenu with patronizing stance to reflect the recognition we are hankering for, sophisticated, superior yet still hasn't found what he is looking for. Servillo (only 55 but always passes for older men) exemplifies the role without detectable effort, his creased physiognomy is telling enough to indicate what's in his vulpine mind.

It is easy to find allusions to the vintage national auteurs like Fellini, Visconti with Sorrentino's darkly flamboyant touch, but the film seems to no more a panegyric to the ancient capital than a contemplative eulogy which fixates on the internal struggle of aging, not only our lives are ephemeral, so is the aggregate city itself, and this is what beckons the core of the Academy voters, I can safely put my ante on a BEST FOREIGN PICTURE win in the upcoming Oscar ceremony, a majestic 15-year comeback to the kudos after LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1998, 8/10).

Anna Karenina

It's the third time for Jon Wright to tender Keira Knightley a leading role in a period drama, the first two (PRIDE & PREJUDICE 2005, 8/10; ATONEMENT 2007, 9/10) have raked in handsome rewards, but woefully the third time is not a charm, a plain and simple reason is that Knightley's screen reputation is a far cry from Anna Karenina, Tolstoy's prime epitome of a Russian belle, a married woman with a modernism perspective, who is enchanted by her dauntless quest of passion and dare to break out of the shackles of a dead-water marriage, yet consequentially, entrapped by her capricious psyche and finally corroded by the society's scorn and her overestimated perseverance of standing her ground.

However, the film is a high-caliber colossus of mise en scène, deluxe costumes and outstanding art direction, particularly during the first act, its tableaux-on-stage suppleness can effortlessly dazzle the audience and preserve a spellbinding momentum while multifarious characters emerge and disappear, honing up to the climax, the resplendent ballroom sequences, introducing the lust-exuding pas de deux between Anna and Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), concurrently, the subplot of Kitty (Vikander) and Levin (Gleeson) has been practically rolled out as well.

Next, here comes the predestined adultery, which is fueled by the laborious emphasis on the enticement of the (not so inadvertent) eye contact, soon appears to be an over-contrived obligation to fornication other than following what your heart wants and the chemistry is purely physical, Anna and Vronsky should be soul-mate right? But here in this film, it is a Hollywood aggrandizement of a skinny beauty shagging a hot youngster who beams with pretended profundity (Taylor-Johnson was only 21, and not masculine enough to take on the role). So the magical momentum slumps, fortunately a little compensation is availed by Jude Law, whose version of Karenin is redolent of compassionate forbearance, elicits a free pardon to dissolve any blame generates from his side, occupies the moral higher ground, which skews our emotional pendulum and undermines Anna's character-building as an anachronistic woman who tragedy is mostly accredit to the time she is in instead of her own defect in making poor decisions.

An involuntarily pouting Keira Knightley, treads the same water in THE DUCHESS (2008, 7/10), no wonder the aesthetic fatigue surges, so she can nail Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet, but not Anna Karenina, she is not that versatile as an actress. With Anna hogging the spotlight, the rest of the cast seldom has any chance to enrich their roles, Macfadyen (Knightley's Mr. Darcy in PRIDE & PREJUDICE) plays her luscious brother Oblonsky, adequately amps up some farcical digressions; as a mirrored romance between the rejected and the neglected (contrasts Anna and Vronsky's passion play), Gleeson and Vikander imbue the film with a modicum of subtlety but the wayward editing fail to make their story more engaging.

So this adaption is a musically lyric venture for Joe Wright fans, it has its marked imperfections (thanks a lot, English is not my native tongue, otherwise I would find it is hard to take a Russian literature with mixed accents seriously), but the redundancy of his grandiose aesthetics, suggests Wright is a man knows what is his strongest suit, I can envisage him a successful comeback if only he can acquire some apposite fodder to prepare, maybe it will be his next project PAN, the origin story of Peter Pan, a wonderland backstory may fall right into his froufrou niche, meanwhile hire a new casting director is more contingent now.

Dolores Claiborne

It all starts with Dolores (Bates) wields a rolling pin and tries to finish the life of Vera (Parfitt), a decrepit lady in wheelchair, so the first thing jumped into my mind is, is this MISERY (1990, 8/10) part II, another Stephen King's creepy thriller starring Kathy Bates?

Yes, the movie will blow you away, yet in a very divergent way, DOLORES CLAIBORNE is a majestically hatched harangue to the male-dominant society with a pungent tint of misandry, and miraculously, as a male audience, I am not repelled at all, because a trio of actresses thoroughly win me over with their powerhouse rendition, they all act like a bitch to survive in the inequitable world, the undertone oozes with bone-chilling malignity which as if we are reaping our own consequences to disparage the worth of womanhood.

Director Taylor Hackford (Mr. Helen Mirren) maximizes the juicy script (adapted by Tony Gilroy with superb grasp on verbal tit-for-tat) with contrast palettes (seamlessly segue between bleak present and balmy past) to channel us into two unsolved death cases. 15 years later, Selena (Leigh), a young reporter in New York, reluctantly revisits her mother Dolores in remote Maine, who is accused of murdering the aforementioned Vera, a rich widow and the longtime employer of Dolores, who works as a maid in her house for over 20 years. Local detective John Mackey (Plummer) keeps his suspicious eyes on Dolores and steps up offensively, while the friction between the mother-daughter pair exacerbates since there is an irreconcilable one-sided estrangement (Selena to Dolores) or even hatred standing between them.

Soon what really troubles all these people comes to light, it is many many years ago during an eclipse day, Dolores' domestic abusive husband Joe (Strathairn, heinous, smug, but dangerously sexy) accidentally (or not?) fell to his death near their home, and Dolores gets away with it (and thus ruined Mackey's perfect career record), but the truth is never that simple, the justification and motivation behind a premeditated murder is converted to a self-defensive protection, it is a familial harassment with a much dark and more reprehensible secret, but the repercussions haunt and torture the pair for so many years although the maltreater bit the bullet long ago.

Firstly Kathy Bates is robbed for an Oscar nomination say the very least, compellingly affectionate and decisively bold as a desperate mother who will do anything to offer a better prospect for her daughter, a selfless love which she asks no recompense, even though Selena completely cuts her out of her life, she is just contented to collect her newspaper articles and be as proud as a mother can be. Bates is simply a nonesuch to be a big-screen diva with her killing bearing fluctuating between a vulnerable housewife and redoubtable matron.

Jennifer Jason Leigh, the most under-appreciated actress among her coeval, strikes as an unthankful and wayward stuck-up hipster at first, but she slowly unwinds her wound with aching perseverance and she is pretty amazing too, we are all fully aware there must be a reason behind all the bickering and rebuffs, then we discover her deepest trauma which she wholly obliterates, it hits like a big bang, and she generates wonderful luster of compassion no lesser than Bates.

The biggest surprise is the lesser-known theater actress Judy Parfitt, a bona-fide scene-stealer, plumb pivotal to the sinuous storyline, who registers unsettling incarnations during two different time frames, the younger Vera who is haughty and fastidious on the appearance, far-seeing and astute underneath; then the elder Vera, paralyzed and miserable, death is her only salvation and she wants to culminate it in her own way for the last time. Although the
She is my current win for BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS of 1995 while Leigh comes strong as the third. Last but not the least, Christopher Plummer never fail to attain the limelight with his incisive gaze and lucid utterance, even the character is not particularly interesting.

DOLORES CLAIBORNE radiates phenomenal visual potency by juxtaposing the eclipse marvel with the accentuated action set piece, only when the sun is blocked by the moon, as if it symbolizes, that's the time the cold-blooded retribution can be consummated with heightened sentient venting! A truly remarkable movie and let's not diminish the merit of the perfectly aligned score by Danny Elfman.

Dallas Buyers Club

Riding the tidal wave of accolades and awards recognitions, will DALLAS BUYERS CLUB assist the vehement renaissance of Matthew McConaughey to decisively harvest an Oscar statue as the top honor? The odds are very rosy and clearly he is the front-runner now, the only weighty competitor is his THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) co-star DiCaprio, whose overdue condition may facilitate him to snatch the highest kudos.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is a dark horse in the BEST PICTURE race and altogether it picked up 6 nominations, apart from BEST LEADING ACTOR, Jared Leto is also having BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR trophy in his bag. Both men's weigh-lost exploits are purely meritorious for the sake of taking "acting" with full-blooded dedication, which usually works every time, say Daniel Day-Lewis in MY LEFT FOOT (1989, 8/10), or Tom Hanks in PHILADELPHIA (1993), right, the film is also about AIDS, but Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is an out-and-out straight man, a dissolute rodeo actually, who is as parochial as his working-class peers, homophobic, ribald and unlikeable, squandering his life immoderately without repentance.

So, when HIV resides inside his body, as if the almighty God generously give Ron a chance to redeem his meaningless life, it is a customary one man's fight against the venal DEA, the monopolized pharmaceutical enterprise and the collusive hospital MDs, but there is a missing point, like many biographical narratives, all the achievement comes rather easily in a way that we audiences never comprehend what makes the protagonist "the chosen one", as for Ron, it is his macho heterosexuality distinguishes himself from the massive homosexual patients, thus the clash and metamorphosis is very theatrical, but how does he manage to be the pioneer in the business of illegal medicines deserves more detailed dissection.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y. 2005, 8/10) is not a novice in dealing with gay-themed feature, although DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is more of an assigned job for him, a light touch comes effectively when he wields the rodeo clown metaphor to manifest Ron's inner fear, surreptitious and hallucinating. The make-up team is quite praiseworthy too with so many damaged goods to take care of, the impact is authentically appalling.

From denial to acceptance, McConaughey unleashes an energetic personification with electrifying panache, self-destructive, uplifting and utter poignant, Ron is not a likable person, but in the end of the day, he becomes a better man, an unorthodox hero. Leto, on the other hand, sets an immaculate epitome of a woman's soul trapped in a man's body, his most emotive scene is the only time he wears a baggy man's suit to ask help from his estranged father, awkward and uncomfortable, his vulnerability is all over the place. Jennifer Garner, as the good side of the hospital doctors, is almost characterless and generic, a major disappointment in the storyline, her patronizing poise is perpetually obtrusive, it is a character should not occupy so much of her screen time, we would love see more of Leto instead.

It is never a winning battle for Ron, the obstacles are too redoubtable to conquer and Ron doesn't have the time either, we might wallow in the staged success, but the reality tells us it is a tough one to hem in the lucrative pharmaceutics within a modulated system, the "life first" rule certainly is easier said than done.

Being There
Being There(1979)

The great but problematic late comedian Peter Sellers penultimate film, which honors him an Oscar nomination and a second BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR win for the legendary Melvyn Douglas. Directed by veteran Hal Ashby and adapted by Jerzy Kosinski from his own novel, BEING THERE starts out as a farcical chimera, Chance (Sellers), is a middle-aged simpleton, a gardener who has been detached from the outside world for his entire life, and whose only recreation is watching television, after his employee's decease, he is coerced to leave the building and face the unknown territory, and satirically, his fate dramatically alters when an accident leads him to bump into Eve (MacLaine), the wife of a wealthy but terminally ill business and political magnate Benjamin Rand (Douglas).

Chance's distinct address, half-beat slower but concise, devoid of self-consciousness, over-calculation and circumlocution, plus a genteel comportment and soothing tone, earns him the trust of Ben and the passion from Eve. Ben is invigorated by his company and Eve is totally smitten with his innately deadpan sex appeal. Step by step it feels not like a ludicrous chimera anymore, Chance (now known as Chauncey Gardiner) meets the USA president Bobby (Warden) and is quoted by him to recoup the confidence of a sluggish economy, appears as a key guest on talk show, attends banquet with Russian ambassador (Basebart, his last big screen appearance), stirs a media craze for his zero-background anomaly, while America goes cuckoo for him, even seriously considers him as a perfect candidate for the next presidency, the coda hints us with a walking-on-water masterstroke to overturn our perceived opinion of Chance, a true godsend vs. a serendipitous irony (what about the Star Wars theme song playing when Chance steps into our society for the first time?)?

Either way, Sellers injects magnificent dynamics and humor into the film, being perennially entrapped within the personification of an unworldly figure, a reluctant intoner, an illiterate whose taciturnity and remarks of horticulture is misconstrued as metaphor with profound sagacity, he never loose his equanimity, and the droll interaction with MacLaine, the libido-driven young matriarch, who thrills in finding an irresistible mate to live on when her senile husband is in extremes, is a wonderful treat for viewers. MacLaine oozes fabulous verve with her not-seen-very-often comedic bent, her self-gratification sequence is wackily idiotic but utterly hilarious. Melvyn Douglas is benign and gullible in eliciting agreeable sympathy in the farewell stage of a lengthy career, his Oscar victory may be a fruition out of Oscar's episodic respect to the elderly, it is more vicarious for the majority voters around the same age. Jack Warden's mockery of president Bobby's impotency comes on a bit too risqué as the first lady is explicitly needy and cannot stop grope him. Anyone sense a whiff of sexism? or even racism? The biggest loose end is Louise (Attaway), the black maid who knows the real identity of Chance, is portrayed horrendously as a hammy dissenter and never has any chance to be a true game-changer, so if Chance is really a godsend, and he must be sent by a god with a pair of colored eye-glasses, and don't even let me start on the cringeworthy homosexual slur.

It is simply pitiful that the film is Sellers' last knock on the Academy's door for recognition, he would kick the bucket one year later at the age of 54 and one year earlier than Douglas (at the age of 80). Albeit some outdated and received ideas about controversial issues, all in all BEING THERE is a novel satire on media invasion, mordant and crowd-pleasing, a comedy with decent taste.

The Bicycle Thief

Now I can tick another acknowledged masterpiece off my watch-list, De Sica's timeless Neo-realism opus comprises of a non-professional cast, sternly portrays a grim reality of the post-WWII Italy, sets in a three-days span, Antonio (Maggiorani) is fortuitous enough to procure a job of pasting posters (Rita Hayworth's lionized poster of GILDA 1946) among the massive unemployed, but a bicycle is a prerequisite to secure the job, it is a luxury for his impoverished family, anyhow, they sell the bedsheets and get a bicycle, it seems that everything is going to be on the right track!

A brief interlude happens when his wife Maria (Carell) detours to visit a seer to remunerate her prophecy, Antonio leaves his new bicycle downstairs and asks some kids playing around to keep an eye on it, then he goes upstairs to find out who is the mysterious woman Maria is visiting, it is an ingenious ploy to incite curiosities of whether the bicycle will be stolen or not, and forebodes the negligence later in the film, the bicycle is nicked in the first day of his work.

Instead of going back home to be enveloped in Maria's whine and fault-finding, Antonio is a man of action, he contacts his friends for help and the next day, with his elder boy Bruno (Staiola), they roam around Rome and try to find the thief, which we all know is a long shot and it dooms to be a long day. From patrolling the recycling market to pursue a beggar who is in contact with the thief in the church, all the effort turns out to be fruitless, during the church scenes, there is trenchant allusion of religion's sanctimoniousness, it is no more than a relief station while justice is never an option for a non-believer.

Antonio brings Bruno for a treat despite of all the frustrations, it is also a guilty compensation after his harsh behavior towards the innocent boy, the contrast between Bruno and a rich boy in the restaurant is glaringly affecting, it is when an idea comes to Antonio's mind, out of desperation, he resorts to the seer, to something he gives no credence, and after a bragging twaddle like "you will only find it now or never", ironically, right after he leaves the seer's building, the suspect is precisely walking in front of his eyes. Then things come to a maddening climax, without clear evidence and with the aid of a throng of protective neighbors, the thief amateurishly fakes a seizure to earn onlooker's compassion, even the policeman cannot help Antonio to arrest the miscreant.

In the last resort, Antonio commits the theft to a bicycle, but he is outrun by the masses chasing him and to his mortification, Bruno witnesses everything with sobbed eyes, pragmatically, he is let off the hook, at least the world shows some mercy in the end, the ending sees Antonio and Bruno walk along with the stream of people, the future is unbeknown to them.

Enzo Staiola is naturally endearing as the precocious son to whom audiences will ceaselessly project their empathy, brilliantly cast, so it Lamberto Maggiorani, adheres to life but seethes with anxiety. Alessandro Cicognini's pensive score is sometimes obtrusive but consistently emotive, and Carlo Montuori's cinematography enriches the misery with visceral intensity by shedding light on the close-ups to indicate characters' inner states.

The film is a substantiated indictment for inequity which permeates the society ingrainedly, it doesn't extol the image of Italians after WII, but it never demonize them either, most of the people are from the struggled class, the moral ambiguity is a blockade to condemn them since life is not easy for any of them. First and foremost the film's sociological study on humanism enshrined itself as unsurpassable opus in the entire film history and its appeal is purely timeless.

Captain Phillips

A Hollywood-produced, politically correct, big studio vehicle, helmed by a world-class action artisan Paul Greengrass, stars the most revered actor of his generation, Tom Hanks as the titular captain, whose screen image is a paragon of an orthodox ordinary Joe alike American hero, in this seafaring hijack inspired by a true event in 2009 at Somali waters. It is a retaliation of the vicious circle from the poverty-stricken to the hegemony which sardonically offers them the alms and simultaneously capitalizes on their natural resources and weaponry merchandizing, so it is not easy to hold a phlegmatic perspective to watch the man-made terror without deploring the sad truth how things have ended up like this, for sure we should inveigh against the piracy felony, all the same we should also see through the phenomena and ferret out the nitty-gritty which induces the atrocious tragedies. We have both parties to blame and need a soul-searching examination on our own conscience.

Greengrass adopts an engaging procedure to re-enact the white-knuckle happening of how the ship is seized by four Somali pirates (leading by a scrawny Muse, played by the first-time actor, now Oscar-nominee Abdi), parallels the narrative from both sides, playing mind games and a hide-and-seek inside the vessel, this is the first half, culminated with the pirates take captain Phillips as the hostage in a lifeboat, floating back the Somali. Apparently from the hindsight, it is a preventable incident, considering it is a US cargo ship, no one on board is equipped with any firearms at all? From a gun frenzy country where campus shooting is rampant, it is quite implausible, but sometimes the truth is as simple as that, the pirates' boarding process is rough and ready, clearly the affluent corporate which owns the ship skimps on its defense system, although they are fully aware of the potential peril could happen anytime. Otherwise, there would be no big deal to defeat four sea marauders (one is barely a child) even they're equipped with AK-18.

Anyway, the second half, Captain Phillips is held captive within a lifeboat with the pirates on the billowy sea, since then, the film heavily hinges on Hank's performance to emanate the brewing desperation during the so-called "negotiation" between US rescue team (SEAL, frogmen are all standby) and the cornered pirates four. It is a precious platform to let Hanks finally have something extraordinary to offer, he completes it with consummate precision and sublimates the predictable fallout of the false hope. Unfortunately due to a crammed year with sterling candidates, Hanks is left out of the nomination list, quite an upsetting snub, but he plays a real person who lacks for a distinctive character except he is under an extreme situation, not showy enough is the detrimental disadvantage. Abdi is the MVP among the pirates four, not as irritable and impatient as the hackneyed short-fuse Najee (Ahmed), he is a human being with flesh and blood, he is the one captain Phillips can relate to under such circumstances, all diversities aside, basically they both work for their respective bosses and want to finish their jobs with minimal casualties. His bold final move can be interpreted as a smart judgment call, his American dream ironically fulfills in a different way, at least he can be plumb free of his ill-destined fate.

Nominated for 6 Oscars including BEST PICTURE (both Hanks and Greengrass are brutally snubbed here), CAPTAIN PHILLIPS is at best an unbiased recount of a man's individual struggle during a hanging-by-a-thread ride, and at worst, it is an unimaginative hostage story with jejune perpetrators wield weapons and demand unrealistic ransom, no one can beat the principled USS army, do you get the message?

Struktura krysztalu

A stark Black & White idyll in the snow-covered rural area of Poland, Jan (Myslowicz) is a pedantic scientist works in a local meteorological station, seemly contented with the austere lifestyle with his wife Anna (Wrzesinska), one day, a fellow scientist and his old friend Marek (Zarnecki) comes to spend his vacation with them, they haven't met for five years, but Marek conceals his real intent beneath the ostensible excuse.

Director Krzysztof Zanussi conscientiously records the two physicists' academic tête-à-tête, as they ramble on scientific jargon, graphic atoms and hexagon structures, Marek advocates the method of producing artificial crystals, he is more urbane, worldly and more westernized (he stayed in USA for some years), obviously nonplussed by Jan's decision to keep the distance from fame and wealth, as a devoted friend, he puts out feelers to inquire his puzzle, but Jan, a humble, staid man satisfies with the status quo, responds with plumb composure, paraphrasing here "it is something neither of them can convince each other and thus they should not talk about it". The cleft lies deep between their divergent outlook on life, but it is not a hindrance to their affectionate friendship, during the diligent account of their day-to-day interactions, Marek is sometimes an envious observer, watches the spontaneous rapport between Jan and Anna with a tender smile, sometimes he is the interloper, his modern stance imperceptibly has an impact on Anna, a provincial school teacher, for her Marek stands for the allure from the world outside, a gentleman will give her flowers, invite her to dance, and even banter with her (an egoist always gets married!), a kind of man she has never met (the untold story of Marek's divorce and his statement of being an unqualified husband may suggest it may not be a good idea), but things never go across the line, the sense of propriety and the covert passion are conducted with superb finesse.

It is also a delicate essay on comradeship, dichotomy aside, Jan and Marek thoroughly enjoy their time as two close friends who haven't seen each other for a long time, when Marek asks Jan to take the wheel of his coupé for instance, it signals an ideal of orthodox intimacy between two friends, while their exercise competition is something only exists in male-bonding. The film is profuse with such benevolent moments, even when they debate about philosophy or literature. Wojciech Kilar's lilting piano melodies wonderfully harmonize with the puissant monochromatic aesthetics, once in a while the swirling camera effortlessly captures the motion of the three characters within circumscribed space. Everything it presents is poetic, naturalistic, and what's more essential, tellingly introspective. I'm no pundit of Polish films, but I daresay it is a rare breed to preserve such dynamism under the background of bleakness and abstractionism.

The Way Way Back

Director debut from Oscar-winning writer-duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (THE DESCENDANTS 2011, 8/10), a diffident but sensitive 14-year-old boy Duncan (James) unwillingly spends the summer vacation with his mother Pam (Collette) and her new boyfriend Trent (Carell) in a beach house where he cannot fit in and is constantly under strains with the domineering Trent, coincidentally he forms a bond with Owen (Rockwell), a happy-go-lucky clerk in the local water land "Water Whizz", after clandestinely takes a part-time job there, Duncan experiences the time of his life and the dreary summer does't seem to be so unbearable.

Opens with Steve Carell drives a revamped station wagon, Collette is asleep in the passenger's seat, James sits in the way back seat facing backward, plus we foreknow a blue-chip ensemble with Rockwell, Janney, Peet, Rudolph and Robb, is it another deletable family confection like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006, 9/10)? The very first conversation between Trent and Duncan shatters this speculation, Duncan has a rough road in this summer retreat, soon it turns out his presumable step-father is not only a pathological doctrinaire, but a two-timing sleaze-bag. The discordance also arises between Duncan and Pam, a typical miscommunication between a mother and her teenage son, Pam is an escapist seeks for protection under the roof of a marriage and is willingly to blindly ignore any snags on her way, but Duncan is a disgruntled son never understand why she cannot find someone better.
The novice Liam James utterly suits the wallflower sort, his self-emancipation route pans out nicely and he balances a fine line between sympathy and ebullience.

Supporting players galore, Duncan gets closer with Susanna (Robb), the next-door girl whose mother Betty (Janney) is a vexing garrulous boozehound, the amiable attachment between Duncan and Susanna is handled with care, realistic and never go overboard. Amanda Peet is perpetually underused as the third wheel old flame and a well-tanned Steve Carell assumes the villain role with dead seriousness with Zoe Levin as his haughty daughter, a bad exemplar of the ugly facet of our young generation. Collette accomplishes the duck soup with tangible nuances as a mother stuck in a morass.

But the most enthralling and funny part of the film is certainly located in Water Whizz, Rockwell is at the top his game with almost ad lib ambidexterity of spontaneity and sincerity, it is not so often to watch him engage in an otherwise mono-layer character, he is so ready for more awards recognition. Rash and Naxon also participate in the film and generate laughters as two buffoonish co-workers.

The film comes to the end as nothing ever happened, the hurtful truth, the unpleasant kerfuffle, Duncan has found his happy place but has to move on, however the positive message spreads from the very last scene renders viewers a firm conviction, life sucks, nevertheless, we can progress, even with baby steps.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday (Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot)

My second Tati's film after PLAYTIME (1967, 9/10), MR. HULOT'S HOLIDAY is when the titular character, Tati's on-screen proxy, was introduced for the first time, a tall, polite, convivial and slightly ungainly gentleman, whose silhouette resembles an adult version of Tintin, drives with his cramped jalopy, but his eyes flicker self-possessed wisdom and unlike the modernistic urban spectacle in the PLAYTIME, this film is confined to a specified rural location, among miscellaneous characters, Mr. Hulot is the prominent player and seamless skits climates with a spectacular hoot of fireworks.

Tati is a sterling humorist, a punctilious life observer, but never an orderly storyteller, so this beachside vocation is a laid-back assemblage of stunts stemming from sheer coincidence, mindless slips or distractions, antics with deadpan seriousness, classic slapstick and precisely calculated gags. The master strokes are plentiful, in particular, the magic paint bucket which wondrously floats with the tides to the very spots uncannily when Mr. Hulot is painting a canoe, which later snaps in half in the middle of the water, this entails intricate camerawork to bring to fruition of all Tati's quirky mind's eye. The black humor emitted from a tyre-and-wreath blooper and the subsequent handshake consolation is pitch-perfect and timeless. Also it is a riot to be amused by the prank of Hulot's invincible serving in the tennis match, all connote that Tati is not only, a steady successor of comedy masters like Chaplin, Keaton, but also a trendsetter of his own trademark humanistic concern conflated with Gallo-sense of satire.

Each day kicks off with light jazz fusions then randomly follows the recreation of the tourists, which concocts a kaleidoscope of people's mindset at then and unremittingly tickles our ribs with Tati's witty, unsophisticated, knowing gimmicks which ruefully reminisce us comedies can also be stylish and virtuous, furthermore compel us to lament what's wrong with the present hurly-burly of comedy, is it true that our public taste of humor has plummeted that deep? Modern potboiler-makers, please regress to the masters of yore for inspiration and stop inculcating us with bawdy, vulgar and unhealthy duds.


A bona fide tearjerker! I am oblivious of Shane's youtube videos, which kickstarts this feature-length picture, but the film needs to be seen by literally everyone, whether for or against the same sex equity, it is deeply heartfelt and perspicaciously educational, I think whoever as long as hold a small fraction of mercy in their hearts, regardless of their religious convictions, after watching this film, it will be a game-changer for the prejudiced and a touchstone for a mightier love above social class, creed, race, color and gender.

The documentary is about Shane and Tom, a gay couple being together for 6 years until Tom died of falling from a rooftop accidentally in 2011 (aged 29), the interviewers (Shane, his families and their friends) chart the story of their lives from Shane's childhood, his bullied school days and his struggling self-identification of being a gay man while Tom attended a first-rate high school albeit his blue-collar family background, and turned out to be an all-american boy, handsome, macho, outgoing, a role model excels both in sports and academy. After fate let them meet in L.A., their relationship epitomizes the most desiring lover-cum-soulmate perfection one could ever dream of, which causes the ensuing tragedy far more harrowing to bear.

A familiar juncture for almost every gay person, the coming-out process, particularly to Tom's parochial family, it was an incubus, which sheerly contrasts with the understandable reaction from Shane's family, however, it is all evinced secondhand by Shane and their friends, since Tom's family adopted the silent treatment to the invitation of the production team to be part of the film, surely we will never know the story from the other side, which is a minor glitch in this otherwise viscerally affecting picture.

Nevertheless, a more contingent fact is how the young soul's passing provoked much more indignation when Tom's family flagrantly shut down Shane out of the funeral and expunged their entire life together as if it never happened, it is an atrocious transgression towards our very basic canon as human beings, it is love unites us, differentiates us and sublimates us from other creatures on earth, and propels our society to move on to a better world, so even though BRIDEGROOM (which is Tom's family name, what a pertinent one!) is hardly a ground-breaking piece of art work (SMS interaction, video footages, travel photography is all it has to render the narrative aside common interviews with apt editing), it is a film should not be missed and I do hope the cost of a young life can be at least in some level compensated by awakening more conservative minds to evaluate the world with a more humane mind and encouraging more individuals to embrace their true color. Also, best wishes to Shane, you are lucky enough to experience true love and don't lose hope, live long and prosper!

Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine(2013)

Does Cate's have the belated Oscar's BEST LEADING ACTRESS in her bag? For a vanity-ridden, insolvent, over-the-hill trophy wife widow who just lost her fraudulent husband (who committed suicide in the prison) and desperately looks for an eligible replacement to get her upper-class life back on track in a Woody Allen's film, it is not congruent with Cate's majestic poise which we all kneel over, naturally I will be head over heels if she wins, but this year, my heart goes to Dame Judi Dench in PHILOMENA (2013), how often does the Academy honor the senior leading ladies? And no one deserves more than Dench among her peers, while Cate is at her prime and tons of opportunities await ahead.

Digress back to BLUE JASMINE, Allen returns to his homeland and the film is set at San Francisco, Jasmine (Blanchett) forfeited all her properties and bank savings after the passing of her husband's Hal (Baldwin), returns to live with her sister Ginger (Hawkins), who is a working-class divorcée with 2 children. There are clashes between Jasmine and Ginger's fiancé Chili (Cannavale), and a past wrangle of losing Ginger and her ex-husband Augie (Clay)'s lottery money scars the harmony between the sisters too.

The bumpy road of Jasmine's readjustment into the new life style commingles with Jasmine's high-end good old days, which grants Blanchett a full gamut of theatrical flexibility to sculpt a rather unsympathetic character from all possible (negative) angles, her shallowness, neuroticism, maliciousness, phoniness, obnoxiousness are all over the place, especially when the revelation unfolds near the end, what's the odds for a wealthy wife to inform on her husband after discovering his chronic out-of-wedlock affairs? Not in real life but in Allen's wishful thinking script, Once she grabs her status, it is no way she will squander everything out of a passion of betrayal, it is something every trophy wife should have learned by heart, what's more unconvincing is that Blanchett can never be that stupid. A paralleled subplot of Ginger's flirtation with a better suitor vehemently hints that things are not better for those lower class dreamers, reality bites.

The non-American Blanchett and Hawkins master in their American accent, Blanchett can never disappoint us, even under the most wretched situation, she is fiery and undefeated like a lioness will never capitulate. Meanwhile I'm more complacent for Hawkins' hard-earned Oscar nomination, what a unique character actress she is, innocuous but vibrant with driving forces. Also an unsung hero among the cast is Cannavale, juggles with the siblings as the unsophisticated blue-collar labourer, who can be so blatant to snide at Jasmine's ruin and question her faults and so volatile when going frantic with Ginger's lapse and totally smitten with her when she retreats back to him.

Disregarding the overstated hubbub with A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951, 9/10), BLUE JASMINE is not Allen's top-tier output, the script is far less from award-worthy and a satirical comedy, but its friendly orange tinge and eclectic jazz ditties could accompany you for a lazy high tea time with Jasmine babbling about her delusions of grandeur, life is comprised of continuous dramas, so just let's laugh about it.

Lee Daniels' The Butler

I'm not a naysayer of Daniel's sordid THE PAPERBOY (2012, 6/10), but his trademark sepia-tone does precipitates the visual fatigue in spite of its retrospective homage, and the sketchy account of different presidents comes shortchanged as trite and uninspiring. The mainstay, nevertheless, is undeviatingly unraveled around Cecil's dissidence against his radical son Louis (Oyelowo), underpinned by a very Oparhesque slap during an inopportune family dinner, until the belated conciliation. Cecil's reserved discretion stems from his childhood trauma in the southern cotton field, but fortuitously he is discovered by an obnoxious officer to work in the White House (this part is schematized hastily and deficient of rationality, it must be more rigid procedures to be recruited as a staff there).

So infused with the prerogative of serving the most powerful men in the country and a decent lifestyle, Cecil involuntarily leans on a more conservative slant of the equity movement for black folks, since most presidents he serves hold a strong attitude to change the status quo, he cannot understand why his son cannot be a bit patient but it is another lay of the land out of his comfy home; Louis is a foolhardy fighter, but he has a perspicuous mind, chooses to leave before he is immersed too deep into the Black Panther fanatic. It is not that all these happenings aren't inviting, but in the film, Daniels only skims on the surfaces of the phenomenon, it is certainly a too wide time span and too many ramifications for one film to entail both comprehensively and attentively.

Whitaker is brilliant and the MVP here, an ideal husband, a conscientious butler and an apolitical observer, underplays his character with subtle nuances, his two different facades, although the script dare not give him too much to handle just as life should be, his presence is a spectacle to watch. Oyelowo, a rising star deserves more leading roles, is another praiseworthy member from the bulky cast, while Winfrey's part, is no Monique in PRECIOUS (2009, 8/10), a pedestrian housewife with alcohol problem scarcely has anything new to offer. What are the remainders after the transient merry-go-around of star-popping? I guess for me it is John Cusack's fake nose and Cuba Gooding Jr.'s smug-face, and the film itself is an underachieved FORREST GUMP (1994, 9/10) wannabe.

The African Queen

John Huston marshals two Hollywood juggernauts (Bogart and Hepburn) in an African cruise on a riverboat (named THE AFRICAN QUEEN) set under the dawn of WWI, with the outlandish aim to torpedo a German dreadnought as a suicide attack.

Opening up with close-up shots perusing indigenous dwellers out of exoticism, with an accompanying carol of psalm conducted by Rev. Samuel Sayer (Morley) and his sister Rose (Hepburn) in the 1st Methodist Church in Kungdu, which reeks of condescending Pharisaism since none of the locals have a clue of what they are parroting, and the unhealthy allusion of them to a bunch of predators when the boat owner Charlie's (Bogart) unfinished cigarette is up for grabs doesn't ameliorate the revulsion albeit its intention of being funny, nevertheless Bogart's belly is just as musical as his singing.

Luckily soon we embark on an adventure strictly includes only Rose and Charlie, it's never too late to fall in love, after the initial distinction around Rose's starry-eyed strategy, the flame of romance is kindled during a perilous passage with rapids. The thrill of riding the waves must stir up an old maiden's passion, the two-hander between Bogart and Hepburn is tremendously entertaining to watch, Bogart plays against his usual detached sangfroid, totally unreserved as a down-to-earth ilk, it is quite refreshing to know this role capped him an Oscar statue, when he imitates a roaring hippopotamus, the joy is tangible and it is a precious moment for Boart's screen image; Hepburn is at the top of her game as well, her appellation to Charlie changed from Mr. Allnut to dear is handled with a heartwarming vignette, and she is also the trailblazer who pioneers a progressive view as a fearless woman, challenges Bogart to the final assail gallantly meanwhile her tender moment with the man she loved is truly touching. The film is also a taxing endeavor in a physical sense, frowzily dressed under the sizzler, all the river turbulence they have to endure (although it is too dangerous to be shoot live on-set, the post-produced and recreated effect is just passable), slogging through the reed-rampant water area by trawling the boat manually, not to mention the fake mosquitoes and leeches (most of the crew were under the weather during the shooting).

Near the coda, Houston deftly injects some gallows humor into their capture by the German navy, but the final twist is merely ludicrous, the capsize is exerted with a slapdash hurry, anyway, it is a genuine romantic exploit can woo a massive fun-seeking, love-hankering viewers plus many non-German patriots and for Huston and his team, it was a lavish hunt for novelty paid by the company and the inception of a long-standing friendship between Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn.

Portrait of Jennie

A destitute artist meets his muse, but is she whether a time-traveler from the past, a ghost image deceased long ago, or simply his imaginary fair tale? PORTRAIT OF JENNIE is a romantic fantasy (adapted from Robert Nathan's novel) from the less acclaimed Germany-born director William Dieterle, starring Dieterle's longtime troupers Cotten and Jones.

It's an ambivalent mystique, the film candidly steers clear of rendering elucidation of Jennie (Jones), we viewers gain our vicarious affections towards her through Eben's (Cotten) blind commitment and crazed conviction. Jones comes off wonderfully through the transition from a teenage schoolgirl to a fair lady, the voice transformation is vividly convincing, also thanks to the nocturnal environment and clever lightning. During her episodic appearances in signposting Eben's track of life, Jones incarnates herself as a genuinely cordial ingénue, the inspiration to light up Eden's pedestrian lot, while maintaining a shade of intended coyness about her whimsical conducts to push the storyline ride on its well-premeditated trajectory (as we are multiply and passively persuaded that the ominous lighthouse will be the elephant-in-the-room concerning Jennie's whereabout eventually), with Cotten endearingly plays along, quite an aberrant and wayward scheme entirely contingent on viewers' grades of naivety, perhaps that's why it hasn't interfaced with modern audiences too well.

Nevertheless, one can rejoice in tons of merits from this film, a poignant catharsis during a striking tidal wave, impressive special effects at its time (under the backing of green tint technique), the singular textured field on a painting canvas when introducing different chapters is a rare endeavor, and well in tune with its dainty artistry. Great chemistry between Cotten and Jones, the ultimate romance Hollywood never ceases to propagandize; the ever-refined Barrymore is a wonderful delight whenever she appears, brings fine touch to the flimsy plot with Kellaway and Wayne, plus a riddle-breaker supporting role from Lillian Gish, (admittedly it is my very first Gish film, and beckons for a welcome start) and a cameo near the end with a young Nancy Reagan (in the only Technicolor shot).

PORTRAIT OF JENNIE is a charming, feel good picture one can easily resort to repeated viewings, and preferably in a renovated BluRay platform where it truly deserves to display.

Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud)

Malle's career debut feature length at the age of 26, a stylized dramatization of a well-planned murder goes berserk. Florence (Moreau) and Julien (Ronet) are two lovers out of wedlock, the only barrier is Florence's senescent but wealthy husband Simon (Wall), for whom Julien works as a corporate clerk, they diligently hatch a plot to get rid of Simon and make the pretense as a suicide scene. The scheme is executed according to the schedule until a last-moment hiccup (Julien forgets the damn rope on the roof), a black cat is always ominous, just when he returns to the company building to fetch it, Julien is accidentally left alone in the elevator. Meanwhile, a pair of youngster Louis and Véronique (Poujouly and Bertin) lift Julien's posh car for a wild ride, en route, a harebrained Louis shot a German couple in a motel using the identity of Julien. The same night, Florence is aimlessly roaming around the streets of Paris, looking for her absent lover!

Things will get messier the next morning when Julien gets out of the elevator, he is wanted by the police and Florence starts to get a grip on the entire misidentified situation, after a concise confrontation with Louis and Véronique, a few developed photographs reveal the real culprits of both homicides, the star-crossed lovers meet their comeuppance as well as the hotheaded Louis.

Logically speaking, its 88 minutes running time seems a bit sketchy for clarifying the police's investigation procedure and there are a flew negligible plot holes dangling (e.g. how the rope without a trace appears at the entrance of the building is never explained), obviously they are not Malle's first choice. The picture is mostly preeminent for the bounteous close-ups to examine his then lover Moreau's emotive visage (under a plain make-up free naturalism) with her inner voice-over, equally impressively is the Black & White shots of the night view on the expressway and in the interrogation part under a pitch-black background, it is a conflation of Film-Noir with a budding La Nouvelle Vague. My personal recommendation is a heart-in-the-mouth set piece for the acrophobic when Julien tries to scale down from the elevator when it abruptly descends, Ronet is solely in his prime and later his mojo would be evoked unconditionally in Malle's THE FIRE WITHIN (1963, 9/10). Two thumbs up to Malle for his immense dexterity in such an incipient stage of his career.

One can also find some scattered fun in the film, such as the chic vehicle or the gizmos of a spy camera or the telephone-cum-pencil-sharpener, certainly for me they are eye-openers. Let's not forget Miles Davis' saxophone-heavy score, downright impromptu, but tallies with the film impeccably!

A more on-topic note is the alert message "never leave photos around", if only everyone could have watched this film before we reached this epoch of selfie fever, the world would be a bit less tumultuous indeed.


I have been an advocate of Iñárritu's works continuously, AMORES PERROS (2000, 8/10), 21 GRAMS (2003, 9/10) and BABEL (2006, 8/10), but his fourth feature length BIUTIFUL has been evading my watchlist hitherto, maybe it is its dour outlook intimidates me, although Bardem grabbed a precious BEST LEADING ACTOR nomination in a foreign language picture.

But today, I'm in an indomitable mood (thanks to my sanguine nature) so I dare to take the challenge. BIUTIFUL, the intentional spelling error rings a bell of THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (2006, 7/10), under the same default of a divorced father struggles to maintain the subsistence with his kid(s), the latter is a bullish and aspiring fairytale while the former treads the muddy water in the underground Barcelona, with an impending terminal cancer lurks on.

Uxbal (Bardem) lives a double life, he is a medium who earns money from eliciting the last words from the deceased, also he is involved in a furtive illegal immigrant labor business with a Chinese boss Hai (Chen). With two children to foster, as a single father, when he realizes his days are numbered, it is a clarion call to urge him to be prepared and don't leave anything unfinished, which is also why the cancer sub-genre has its unique allure since it sets a date, motivates or even coerces the protagonists to take a look at theirs lives from a different angle, to slow down the pace and engage in an introspection like in TIME TO LEAVE (2005, 7/10) or to fulfill the bucket list like in MY LIFE WITHOUT ME (2003, 8/10), but here, Uxbal faces a much grimmer reality, everything will collapse, sometimes even in the most horrid way (an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning results in the casualties of two dozens Chinese immigrants all because he bought the cheapest heaters), his tentative attempt to leave two kids to his bipolar ex-wife Marambra (Álvarez) leads up to a blind alley and his brother Tito (Fernández) is a giant sleaze ball. With no other option, he leaves all his savings to an African immigrant Ige (Daff), who lives with them with her own infant boy, in dire hope he wishes she can take care of his offspring, but will she? Life cannot be more harder, so death could be his deliverance.

Bardem is so emotive as the jaded father, with his perpetual greasy hair, utterly riveting in meting out the plight around him, particularly scenes with his two younglings, a dramatic turn from the deadpan and ruthless killer in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007, 9/10); theatrical actress Álvarez stuns in her film debut, a far more afflicted persona beyond redemption. Being a Chinese, it does pique my curiosity to see how a foreign director does with the Chinese gay characters in their films, but as a much diluted subplot here, shamefully it has been passed over with a vilifying perspective.

Iñárritu spins a Stygian recount of a very personal story, its often wobbly, frantic camera movements linger persistently in the seedy and cramped environs, attended by the otherworldly score from Gustavo Santaolalla, sometimes resorts to fright flick with the spectra materialize out of nowhere. Apparently my least favored film so far, its brooding nature and the one-sided linear narrative does deter the general audiences from emerging oneself to a sadcore once more.

Primary Colors

Mike Nichols presents a political satire PRIMARY COLORS, which came timely during Bill Clinton's infamous Lewinsky scandal and impeachment in 1998. So it might boost the publicity then, but 15 years later, when our memories fade, the film actually has weathered pretty good, narrating from a Black young novice Henry (Lester)'s eyes, who assists Governor Jack Stanton (Travolta)'s presidential campaign for the democrats, initially Henry thinks Jack is different from other politicians because he viscerally cares about adult literacy and dyslexia, but when he gets closer to him, the stain of Jack's personal life is far more reprehensible and the conniving political game is far too scurvy for an idealist like him.

With a light touch, the film sets its campaign process in a vibrant tempo, benignly portrays Jack as a zestful candidate who canvasses and panders to his voters with great facility (through the different connotations from his body gestures and a memorable slapstick cameo from Allison Janney) in spite of the relatively youthful and uninitiated team. Then when Jack's wife Susan (Thompson) comes into the scene, the placid surface cannot dissemble the cracks beneath as soon as we detect Jack's philandering nature. A sex scandal is well-expected, which invites the troubleshooter Libby (an open lesbian and a close friend of Jack and Susan since college), plays by a fiery Kathy Bates, a devil-may-care warrior can track down any sources and break them, Bates is well-deserved for this hard-earned Oscar nominated performance, her wrangle with Jack and Susan about the integrity she cannot forsake is purely magnificent.

Emma Thompson is perpetually excellent, especially under Nichol's guidance, a perfect wife behind a successful man mode is such a cinch for her and she nails it with much more nuances to accentuate her vulnerability and snobbishness. As for Travolta, it has hitherto been his last decent offer (if one can count out his droll transvestite transformation in HAIRSPRAY 2007, 8/10), underneath his cordial impression, his true color does not betray easily even in the hardest times, maybe that's why makes him a successful politician. And Adrian Lester is the audience's proxy, a wide-eyed enthusiast undergoes the tidal wave throughout, and an adamant observer which cogently influences his sea change in altitude through the screen to the viewers, bookends with the ending's artificial vagueness which also corresponds with the beginning, the same handshakes, different undertones.

Forget about its reality allusions if you can, PRIMARY COLORS qualifies itself as a better-than-expected dissection of what politicians are made of, we are all characters with flaws, sometimes moralities and political expertise should be discriminated in order to see through the murky smoke screen and select the credentialed ones instead of stalking horses. As for most of us, the most substantial message is that there is no win-win situation or whatsoever in the political composition.

A Royal Affair

A historical lesson from a period drama about the age of the Enlightenment in Denmark, a national revolution conducted by a German foreigner Dr. Johann Struensee (Mikkelsen) and his romantic involvement with Caroline Mathilde (Vikander), the Queen of King Christian VII (Boe Følsgaard), another exemplar of how arranged marriage really sucks!

A ROYAL AFFAIR is an Oscar BEST FOREIGN PICTURE nominee, a sumptuous production (art direction, costume etc.) for the eyes and an irresistible bait for period fanatics (count me in). Intriguingly, it is not a conventional love triangle since there is no love at all between Caroline and Christian from the very first sight, once Caroline bears their son and fulfills her obligation as a Queen, their connubiality is only a token guise while Caroline and Johann are the star-crossed lovers, but their romantic rapport surprisingly has been outshone by Christian's devout friendship towards Johann, it is a territory many historical pictures dare not to explore, Christian is a one-of-a-kind character, a mad king or a spoiled child, his mentality is so capricious and unpredictable (maybe thanks to the excessive masturbation), thus whenever he is on screen, the attention all turns to him, even an actor as excellent as Mikkelsen cannot turn back the tide, and the newcomer Boe Følsgaard owns the character out-and-out. He is a lonely king in desperate need of a true friend and when he finds Johann, their mutual interest in theatre connects resoundingly and from then on, Christian confides his unconditional obedience to Johann, allows him to govern the country and execute the avant-garde revolution against all odds, even Caroline, when he finally finds out their adultery, is expendable in trade of maintaining the status quo with Johann (it is hard not to divine maybe there is something more than friendship lies beneath the surface).

But their immature reformation is intrinsically ephemeral, Johann is not a qualified politician as his overhasty actions boomerang, he loses his allies easily, what's more fatal is the scandal puts him against the whole nation (having an affair and even a daughter with the Queen), and gives his rivals a too-grand opportunity to annihilate him, his only chance is Christian, but at this moment, who is just a puppet king completely beaten up. Mikkelsen is exceedingly captivating in the final scenes when he realizes his doom is inevitable, he gives incredible nuances as a man's ultimate fear when death awaits mercilessly. Internationally acclaimed Dyrholm and Dencik (if one can recall their idiosyncratic collaboration in A SOAP 2006, 8/10) are cast as the King's stepmother and her conservative aide, not too much screen time though but Dyrholm eludes a more accessible intensity instead of the corny evil stepmother default.

Anyhow, the film is a delight output from Denmark, a tinge protracted one may complain and the powerlessness to witness goodwill goes to perish is also disheartening, but as a fine piece of art, defects cannot obscure the splendor and the virtues.

On the Waterfront

This Kazan-Brando collaboration (after A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, 1951 9/10) finally granted both an Oscar along with a sweeping 8 wins including BEST PICTURE out of 12 nominations. The prestige of this monochromic magnum opus is merely indisputable so as to my sheer expectation could not be more intrigued.

It is a forthright story, a bum longshoreman's awakening to his conscience and takes on a venal union boss and his heavy minions. There are several incentives for his self-morphing into a better person, his love to a girl who in turn elicits his true grit, the demise of his brother (a pretty slow-witted move to put the final nail in the coffin to urge a man at his wits' end to go to the opposite of the line), and a religious influence from a virtuous priest, whose righteous homily is spirit-lifting but cannot deliver the huddled mass from numb apathy. Against the grain, it is also an indictment of the repressed workers who is suffer from crowd conformity psychology and cowardice, the most abhorrent thing is one of the sidekick child massacres all the pigeons just to demonstrate an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth when Brando finally musters his courage to be a key witness in a murder case against the boss, it feels blatantly inexplicable and rather far-fetched. The same can be referred to the ending, a battered-up Brando (with horrible bloodstain make-up) struggles to stand up and walk towards the gate so rest of the longshoremen can be convinced that they should follow suit and disregard whatever reasons hold them back. It is a too-well calculated victory.

Bad-mouthing about some uneasiness while watching this picture aside, Brando emanates a tremendous air of competence as the young loafer stranded in the underbelly of the dock, his two-hander with Eva Marie Saint comes well-handled, alternately romantic and endangered, and Saint's film debut is also a fortuitous triumph for her, a borderline leading part nabbed BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS trophy. Wondrously, the film also holds the record of securing three slots as BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR nominees (but no win), Kazan's longtime workmate Malden emotes a paragon crime-defender as the priest, J. Cobb is the pure evil as the ringleader while his henchmen are completely imbecile and a young Steiger is the in-between as the ill-fated brother, an ambiguous image betrays great empathy in the illustrious conversing scenes inside the taxi with Brando.

ON THE WATERFRONT also manifests Kazan's top-notch deployment of the camera, with DP Boris Kaufman, the close-ups and fixated angle shots run fluently without tampering the rhythm of its grim reality. Leonard Bernstein's accompanying score adheres firmly to the vascular impulse of the predictable diegesis. Thus, it is a fine piece of filmmaking and reminisces of the Golden Age with a touch of working-class bashing which may leave a small number of its modern audience nonplussed.

Don Jon
Don Jon(2013)

JGL's director debut (also the writer and leading actor, a triple threat indeed in this case), DON JON, like (500) DAYS OF SUMMER (2009, 8/10), they are not your average rom-com and they are much better since they underpin certain realistic meanings. For DON JON, it is an anti-objectification to what Hollywood chronically implants into our generations' minds about the veneer of romantic relationship. That is, man is looking for the perfect sex target to fulfill all his fantasies and woman is looking for a Mr. Perfect who is totally under her control. Both reek one-sided selfishness.

Thanks to the invention of internet pornography and the discrepancy between man and woman on playing with oneself, for man, the more graphically related sexual demand can be easily actualized, so our protagonist Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a porno-addicted gym jock, who has no difficulty hooking up the hottest girl in the nightclub, but when the eventual boy-meet-girl scenario happens, a smoking hot Barbara (Johansson) yet cannot drag him out to the cold turkey period, meanwhile, Barbara is far from picture-perfect and clearly has her own agenda of what kind of man she is seeking for, an inexorable clash sets them apart (although the history in the browser is a shoddy device). Later on, Jon starts to date an elder woman Esther (Moore) from the night school, who has just gone through a tragic accident in her life, nurtured by Esther's sensible edification, Jon becomes clarified about what love is and accomplishes his rite of passage.

DON JON is a genre-blender with indie comedy, romp romance and lighthearted drama, adorned by formulaic default of male chauvinism, female sexualization, boisterous Anglo-Italian family (Tony Danza is an embarrassing joke though), paint-by-number religious service and confession, while swarmed with repetition shots of making beds, gym, church, night school, sex-hunt in the club, and of course, porn stuff. Nevertheless as a novice in the director's chair, JGL shows qualified competence in executing the story with slick pace and earnest passion, and as an actor, he is definitely a leading man material among his peers. Johansson and Moore are pitch-perfect in two different types of women who turn a boy into a man. Johansson amplifies her self-mocking fatuousness and control freaky possessiveness, injects immense credibility in a derogative character; Moore, is an on-screen goddess of mettle, shatters the twenty-years age difference, generates some wholesome chemistry with JGL despite it is not a challenging role for her at all.

I give DON JON an reassuring 8/10, it is more than a cute feel-good flick to watch with your significant other, underneath its less-than-impressive script, the connotation it evokes is worth more wider reverberations other than an immediate suggestion "why not Jon just date a porn star if he is really into that?". For me, it is a guilty pleasure not the least because Moore is in it.

The China Syndrome

First of all, this film is irrelevant to China, THE CHINA SYNDROME is a technical term of a fictional nuclear reactor operations accident, its definition is here. Gathering Lemmon, Fonda and Douglas (as the producer took on the role when Richard Dreyfuss dropped out at the last minute), three big names carry on this nuke crisis thriller, which graphically covers a nuclear accident from both the news media (Fonda, an ambitious anchorwoman and her hothead cameraman Douglas) and a conscientious insider of the plant, Lemmon the shift supervisor.

While a disputable debate on nuclear technology preponderates most of the receptions, if one thinks a bit deeper, it is not a film deliberately provokes its viewers to be aware of the instability of nuke per se, the real culprit is a malfunctioned organization under loose management and its money-seeking honchos' myopia in neglecting a potential and fatal glitch and preferring bankrolls to its social responsibility for the public's safety, nuke is not the reason why the tragedy happens, it only serves as an agency to trigger the chain reaction, if every and each one does their adequate job, the entire system should function faultlessly as it claims.

It is not a movie with a conventional happy ending - a lone guy with rectitude fights against the merciless enterprise finally grants a victory against all odds, or a fearless journalist pursues a scoop which divulges a cover-up and prevails the justice. It settles on a more shocking alternative for the good guy here, and the ultimate confessions in front of the camera (both Fonda and Brimley) justify what a man-made debacle it is, if only there was some humanity and understanding there to avert the mess.

Lemmon edges out his co-stars by a mile in here, he depicts a man with a lucid mind to detect an impending bug in the nuclear plant where he devotes his whole life, and simply magnificent when he is put under severe distress and evokes bounteous sympathy from audiences. Fonda (red-hot after winning her second Oscar for COMING HOME 1978) by comparison doesn't offer much to showcase until the very end, still a pretty competent performance and her tortoise steals some thunder as well. Out of all the supporting actors, Wilford Brimley should be merited for his unassuming but naturalistic rendition of a much more complicated character than he appears.

THE CHINA SYNDROME is a score-free venture which is surprisingly pertinent to the present climate, it has a powerhouse performance from Lemmon and continues to flare up as an enthralling cautionary tale.

Un Conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale)

Today is Christmas Day, so it is the most apposite time to watch this French drama, rife with cancer, marrow transplant, siblings rivalry, unstable mentality, chronic depression, familial incest and distant mother-child relationship, very Christmasy!

A follow-up of KINGS & QUEEN (2004, 6/10), French art house director Arnaud Desplechin concocts a fine potpourri of familial entanglements around the bourgeois Vuillard family, opens with a consequential animated preamble of the loss of their eldest son Joseph at the age of 6 due to a hereditary blood disease while no compatible marrow transplant is found in both parents, the daughter Elizabeth (Consigny) and the second son Henri (Amalric), who is conceived to offer a cure to his elder brother. But time goes on, a third son Ivan (Poupaud) is born, and now they are all grown-ups, then the matriarch Junon (Denueve) discovers that she suffers from the same disease, the only compatible donors are Henri and Elizabeth's son Paul (Berling), hence this Christmas, a family reunion is endowed with a more grave determinant, especially for the black sheep in the family Henri, after a 6-year banishment (due to an unspecified riff with Elizabeth), his return with his new Jewish girlfriend Faunia (Devos) will undoubtedly thrust the tension with Elizabeth's family and have an impact on Junon's final resolve to her impending treatment.

Screen time is almost equally allotted to the all-star cast with their own stories intermingle in a short span of the timeline, although the main stream focuses on Henri and Junon's reconciliation, but it is not a beatific movie to bury the hatchet and embrace a pristine future, every family has its distinctive script written with plenitude of relatable interactions, notably, the mutual attraction between Ivan's wife Sylvia (played by Chiara Mastroianni, Denueve's real life daughter with Marcello Mastroianni) and Ivan's cousin Simon (Capelluto) clicks wonderfully in the latter part of the film, it is very French as well, for moralistic puritans and prudes, it is a sheer crevice in their convictions which will prompt harsh opprobrium.

One trait of superfluity is the chunk of monologues, colloquies with staccato coherence, loose ends are all over the place, we can never decipher the real motivations and reasons behind certain behaviors which adhere to a particular terrain of mores; also the peephole shots introduces each chapter gives the film a stage structure and the occasional talk-to-the-camera shtick often comes out of nowhere, they may variegate the viewers' recipiency but are inconsistent in the plot development and engender some distractions hinder the appreciation.

Amalric and Mastroianni are my pick among the ensemble, he is a true thespian with utter devotion while she bears her father's resemblance and an arresting existence whenever she is on screen. Devos is enjoyable as an unobtrusive intruder (reminds me to watch an Angela Basset film), Denueve is as distant as always, graceful but stereotyped, Poupaud is too damn good-looking for his shyness and benevolence and Consigny is perpetually frowned and distressed, enclosed in her own little world, one might feel too depressed to invest in her.

In conclusion, it is not your average Christmas flick, but a less chic showpiece about kindred liaisons than Assayas' SUMMER HOURS (2008, 8/10).

The Man in the White Suit

An Ealing Studio's satire on capital and labor's aligned suppression towards the revolutionary invention of an unbreakable and dirt-free fabric. A Cambridge graduate (Guinness) is debarred from a short-sighted garment manufacturer (Gough) to proceed his research, but with the help of another industrialist's daughter (Greenwood), he is financed by her father and unprecedentedly invents the fabric, which he thinks can benefit all mankind but both the workmen and their high-handed authority figures say otherwise, then a series of cat-and-mouse games ensues until an Achilles heel of the magical fabric pops out of left field ends the farce with everyone is happy except our protagonist.

Running snappily around 85 minutes, the story is unfolding concisely and takes an interesting turn after the cringe-worthy sequences of a nobody requests to meet an affluent personage but is routinely fended off by a hoity-toity butler. Guinness extracts a creditable poise of innocence and innocuousness besides a nerd's impulsion of his scientific pursuit, and one can read more through his inscrutable eyes. Greenwood is the darling girl here, clears barriers for Guinness when he is in trouble, a rarefied paragon from the upper class, even single-handedly engineers a persuasive feeler in the crucial moment. Vida Hope belongs to the opposite working class, who holds a secret admiration toward Guinness, and her rough and strong-arm simplicity is spot-on. Cecil Parker has a comical presence as an oscillating pushover, and a vulture-alike Ernest Thesiger has a grandstanding entrance as the mogul and decision-maker in the business.

Director Mackendrick and DP Slocombe utilizes a great contrast of Black & White cinematography to accentuate the luminous white suit, particularly in the chase set pieces. THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT is a prescient allegory tale which pinpoints the discovery of something new will upset the delicate market and self-seeking masses, it leaves a bitter taste for this technology-advanced era and meanwhile, it is an ingenious comedy deserves multiple watches anytime, anywhere.

Monsters University

I haven't revisited MONSTERS, INC. (2001, 8/10) since its original release, so a decade later, forgive me for no photographic memory to scan the connections between it and its prequel (all I remember is Mike and Sullivan duo). But start afresh, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is no less entertaining than any other Pixar-labelled "high-art" animations, although it doesn't reach the peak where the one-two-three punch WALL-E (2008, 9/10), UP (2009, 9/10) and TOY STORY 3 (2010, 9/10) has thrived.

It is a standard college comedy, reminiscent of Harry Potter trio's adventure in Hogwarts, Mike being a male version of Hermoine the know-it-all, studious but more aggressive and pertinacious; Sullivan is the golden boy who struts and banters for popularity with his inborn stature and family prestige. So from foes to friends they have to learn their lessons in a hard way, Mike being an overachieving geek in the wrong game and Sullivan squandering his time and talent and taking a lofty goal for granted, twist number one; next step, an underdog's team work to crown the champion in the scary competition, but an indiscreet but understandable machine-rigging undermines the victory, this is twist number two; then an extravaganza into the toxic human world comes to a climax shows the pair's true potentiality and produces the twist number three; then unlike the conventional happy ending in Disney world, the twist number four heartwarmingly brings them into a niche place and avers one maxim, there isn't only one way to reach your goal.

Since Mike and Sullivan aren't exactly the funny wisecrackers, all assortment of monster sidekicks not only have to arrest your glances but also elicit laughters, frankly speaking, the belly-laughing moments are not so frequent as RIO (2011, 8/10) for instance, and occasionally it loses momentum in its execution of the story, the five rounds of competition are unevenly exposed. Randy Newman's music is still uplifting and all-age friendly, but the excitement doesn't register anymore, still the brand of Pixar is aiming to a youngster-slanting demography for the sake of maximizing the profit, but the story of undergraduates and fraternity could be more nostalgic to adult audiences, its wavering standpoint may cause detriment and set a barricade to retain the golden medal as the torchbearer in the business above and beyond its unparalleled production team.

Under the Volcano

Don't be fooled by the dark glasses in the cover of its DVD box or its poster, this John Huston film is not about a hipster's feel-good adventure and Finney is no Hercule Poirot here (although he does reunite with his co-star Bisset from MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS 1974, 9/10), the truth is, it is adapted from Malcolm Lowry's classic but "unadaptable" novel with the same title.

Set in 1939, Mexico, starts on the eve of the Day of the Dead, it focuses on a former British consul's life in one-day span, plagued by incorrigible alcoholism and blindsided by his ex-wife's return with an attempt to rekindle their new life together, he begins to realize he is a lost cause which is beyond any succor, and the finale is both stalely traumatizing and embarrassingly contrived.

But one sure thing is that Finney devotes fully to the role and evokes wondrous affections from the very beginning, he is a genuine force of self-destruction, a damaged soul would be a nuisance to others, but underneath his portly and alcohol-soaked figure, he represents one state-of-mind can virtually remind us how fragile and pathologically determined one can be, even it heads to a suicidal ruin. His two co-stars, Bisset and Andrews, come on board also pretty strikingly with their different nature of temperaments, Bisset is the glamorous ex-wife who balks at her further step as we do watch her hemming in the quandary, Andrews is a pleasant matador, his side of the story should have been more explored, clearly he knows what had happened between the couple, but nobody cares to shed a light here, as the horrible coda lurks, the movie only manages to exert all its energy to an irksome case of xenophobia without giving any justice to its cause and effect.

So undeniably Houston's later career wanes harshly in quality, still, a notable mention should be addressed to the legendary composer Alex North (grabs his last Oscar nomination out of a total 15 nominations without a win except an Honorary award in 1986), whose eerie opening score of the variegated skull show does set a high bar to what this anti-climax film would actually offer, sad to say but this is another John Huston work I dare not to advocate (after THE MAN WHO COULD BE KING 1975, 5/10 and PRIZZI'S HONOR 1985, 5/10).

The Children's Hour

Wyler's second filmic adaption of Lillian Hellman's controversial play THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, the first attempt is THESE THREE (1936), 25 years later, he marshals his favorite girl Hepburn with the blossoming MacLaine to lead the pack and recounts the taboo lesbian tale with a more provocative approach.

As an indoor drama with flourishes of false accusations, venomous manipulations, fierce rejoinders, highfalutin buffooneries and affecting confessions among its players, a somewhat gnawing touch of agitation originates from the setup of an evil child (Balkin), whose performance and mien is fiendishly maddening, perhaps it is an intentional option to cast an unappealing girl to magnify the dark side of a child, but if the utter repulsion is the aim, it absolutely scores the bullseye.

Unlike in the sensational BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961, 7/10) of the same year, Hepburn strips down to an unostentatious skeleton to portray a woman with unsullied discretion and devoted commitment to her friend, but her pride is too demanding for her spunky fiancé (Garner) to respect, the woman of independence theme runs gloriously in the ending where Hepburn's textbook smile and dignified swanking are emitting gratifying signals both on and off screen. Nevertheless, the obvious and more taxing work is from MacLaine, a closeted lesbian at that time, whose darkest secret has been catalyzed by a contumacious girl's fallacious slander, her confession scenes is one heck of a sensation which persists to impress audiences from generations on. Shamefully, the only acting nomination from the Academy is for the venerable Bainter, who is in every way deserves it and even the win as the moral yardstick at then to reprimand the "unspeakable sin" and becomes the victim of her own (and her granddaughter's) deeds, one may wonder, what will she act if ever she finds out the truth of the story, it's a vivid rendition full of nuances and certainly upgrades her role's credibility from a one-note slant. While Miriam Hopkins is a complete laughingstock here and it is also the big screen debut for the freckle-faced Veronica Cartwright, who can effortlessly give Balkin a good run for her money.

In conclusion, Wyler and the team pluckily open the Pandora's box and lay bare the elephant in the room with calculated cautions, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR is a significantly edifying allegory should be seen by as many as us possible, and an essential prerequisite is if you can fast-forward all those scenes with Karen Balken in it (there are quite a few close-ups which overstay their welcome).


One more Hollywood recruiter of foreign talents, Canadian Villeneuve (from INCENDIES 2010) submits his Tinseltown debut with a dark drama about a child abduction, congregated by a swathe of bankable thespians and a virtuoso DP Roger Deakins, it was a considerable success both in box office and among critics, although its Oscar prospect will not likely pan out.

PRISONERS conventionally chronicles the appalling case with thorough stoicism to supply enormous stretches to the key performers, Jackson and Gyllenhaal are the two leading players, one is a dogged father believes in his own judgment and is pressured to take extreme measures to fish out information of his missing daughter; another is an idiosyncratic cop has to probe into a sordid scenario while his own backstory remains veiled. Through all these years Gyllenhaal has honed up his screen personality substantially and his quirky foibles (the compulsive blinking here) make him more human while Jackman is a tad over-the-top with a more straightforward character development.

Bello, as the flip side of Jackson, her post-trauma symptom is being fully destroyed, cannot function anymore, a devastating mother is a piece of cake for her; Howard and Davis pair stand for a more neutral ethnic line here, which one can relate to oneself under the context, but their shortcomings are as glaring as they are ubiquitous. Dano, who takes us aback with another ambivalent career-turn, his make-up in the torture scenes is too surreal for general viewers, theoretically we should feel sympathetic for him, but somehow he manages to diminish this feeling with his look of opaqueness, is he a real retarded victim or a lackey enjoys the gore? It is a moot point where lingers great aftertaste. We cannot leave Melissa Leo behind here since she is the hidden culprit, her reasons for killing aside, her performance does enhance the story's credibility, and although her downfall is ordained, her encounter with Jackson in the ultimate confrontation is gold and only she can emotionally overpower and cramp Wolverine into his redemption into the darkness.

Villeneuve proves wonderfully he is a dab hand can handle challenging projects like this, the whole production team is top-notch, Deakins' camera irradiates specifically in the car sequences near the end, alongside the cutthroat editing, a subdued iridescence can never be more ravishing and what's more praiseworthy is that it thrusts the narrative into its ultimacy with utter urgency and dazzlement.

PRISONERS sits comfily into my top 10 year-list, PICTURE, DIRECTOR, LEADING ACTOR (2 spots), SUPPORTING ACTOR and SUPPORTING ACTRESS, for my no-gut-no-glory Oscar prediction, I sincerely hope Deakins can sneak in, alas, even so, he is no chance of winning over GRAVITY (2013, 9/10).

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini)

Another 70s Oscar BEST FOREIGN PICTURE victor, from the versatile Italian actor/director Vittorio De Sica, in fact this is only my second De Sica's film (after MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE 1964, 8/10 and disregarding the medley BOCCACCIO '70 1962, 6/10), thus admittedly a major motivating force to watch this one is the star appeal, namely Sanda and Berger.

Sanda, whom I recently discovered from Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST (1970, 9/10), plays Micòl, the young daughter of the aristocratic Jewish Finzi-Contini family in Ferrara in the late 1930s, is the love interest of Giorgio (Capolicchio), from another Jewish but lower-class family, although they have been childhood sweethearts, Giorgio's courtship has yet come off. Meanwhile Micòl's effeminately indisposed brother Alberto (Berger) brings his burly friend Bruno (Testi) to the family and initially Micòl antagonizes him with her affected pomposity, but the ensuing happenings will dish Giorgio's hope and Micòl eventually turns out to be a token victim of the tumult and a failed attempt to dare the purity of Jewish ethnicity.

As a war drama of ordinary people being shoved haphazardly by the humanity-defying heinous torrent of rabidness, the movie (maybe also Bassani's source material) obviously don't want to lay bare the ugly truth with pulverizing segments which one can generally assume would happen during the persecution of those Jews (cautiously the film finishes right before that), everything meanders with tepid temperature and sensuous palette, from jovial time on bicycle to the final illusory tennis court flashbacks (the difference between De Sica and Antonioni is immediate), but at any rate, it is wanting a bang to emanate the revelation which is always up in the air, not even the reveal of Micòl's lover with Sanda's bare-chest audacity and soul-searching stare.

Like Visconti, De Sica evinces ethereal and superior beauty from his young cast, say no more to knockouts like Sanda and Berger (who is purely existed for his godsend delicacy and impeccable face), even an ordinary-looking Capolicchio and the future action star Testi, have been sculpted meticulously with soft light and fond close-ups. Valli, on the other hand, is prominent as Giorgio's father, illustrates lucidly as a spokesman for an elder generation frustrated by their fate and also impotent to save their children.

As a double winner for an Oscar and a Golden Berlin Bear, it doesn't live up to my expectation, maybe it is a common attribute for Italian melodrama, its across-the-board appeal dwindles as time passes by, Visconti's SENSO (1954, 7/10) is too saccharine for my palate and this one is somewhat rather undemanding under the reigns of a maestro like De Sica.

Stranger by the Lake

A much-hyped critics-darling since Cannes this year, a sudden bonanza for French director/writer Guiraudie, it ends up both in this year's Top 10 lists of SIGHT & SOUND and CAHIERS DU CINEMA (where it nabs the 10th slot and first place respectively). So undisputedly it is a movie one shouldn't miss, also plugged by its explicit gay sex scenes, the stimuli are ample.

Scale-wise, it is an original uni-locale (a nudists beach where gay men cruise around in the nearby woods) theatrical experiment with limited roles conversing, swimming, peeping, rumination and sexing up, inclusively shot under natural lighting (the climax in the hours of darkness couldn't be more instantaneously spine-chilling and expectant) and devoid of music manipulation. The film initiates each day with the same frame angle aiming to the parking alley and we follow the ambivalent path of Franck (Deladonchamps)'s infatuation with the enigmatic Michel (Paou), who is deadly alluring but murderous, step by step, Franck is drawn into this excitement of uncertainty (and of course, the euphoric pleasure from the carnal knowledge), his desperate measure to move their relationship onto another level is at odd with Michel's no sleepover involvement, which reflects the quagmire of modern-day relationship syndrome, not exclusive in homosexual club.

Another sub-plot relates to the purely platonic friendship between Franck and a rotund carpenter Henri (d'Assumçao), the only non-nudist and a bystander on the beach, there is awkward silence in between tellingly suggests the league-boundary is more tensile than one thinks. DP Claire Mathon runs the gamut from the lingering long-distance shots to the more fluid subjective takes (the murder scene in the lake from the viewpoint of Franck combines both into the apotheosis), not to mention the hardcore material in its graphic presentation, I'm not an alarmist, so the bold bravura gains many points for the film per se.

Guiraudie never makes intelligible of the murder case and the turnaround to a modest slasher near the coda is a bit precipitous but the abrupt ending justifies this entrancing feature as the crème de la crème in the art house branch because it leaves the viewers in a state of transcending suspense and never quench it.

Deladonchamps excels in his guileless jock appearance with a more traditional value of romance; Paou submerges into a more opaque vision as a perfect lover full of temptation and threat, yet detrimentally irresistible. Truly, STRANGER BY THE LAKE is an emboldened genre-breaker, unlike the spearheading gay romance WEEKEND (2011, 8/10), it manifests a different facet of desire, stress and self-delusion among us.

Advise and Consent

I will not refute that my radical response towards Preminger's ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959, 5/10) vaguely seven years ago, is due to a commonplace disparity of personal taste, which may explain my procrastinated second foray into Preminger's cannon, the less prominent and awards-snubbed ADVISE & CONSENT.

Personally speaking, political drama is not my genre of passion especially I have grown up from a country where no such type of cinema conspicuously exists, plus basically I have few clues of the structure and framework as regards the complex USA political hierarchy (although thanks to HOUSE OF CARDS, I have assimilated some elementary guidances now), thereby, my ingrained insouciance is the chief impediment.

Efficiently introduced in the very first scene, the central issue is zooming in on the designation of the newly-nominated Secretary of State Robert Leffingwell (Fonda) by the ailing President (Tone), who resorts to Senate Majority Leader (Pidgeon) to facilitate the procedure in the Congress while the main drag force is a senior Senator Cooley (Laughton) who holds a personal ill will against Robert. Then roughly the film can be split into halves, the first one principally concerns a cross-examination of Robert's communist background in a subcommittee presided by the budding Senator Anderson (Murray), it's a conflict blurs the lines between truth and lie, which can be implied tacitly as an imperative criterion in politicking and also segues into the second half pertains to Anderson being extorted into an earlier jurisdiction by an envious Senator Van Ackerman (Grizzard), with an extra push from Cooley. Anderson is plagued by the deepest secret about his sexual orientation, as a result, a certain tragic follows. The two glaring talking points (communism and closeted homosexual) come as convenient and topical at the Cold War years, half a century later, propitiously we are lumbering on. At the final act, the Vice President (Ayres) steals the show as a fluke of an arbitrary fabrication on the votes.

For audiences, the most palatable merit is a stellar ensemble body of work, first-billed though, Fonda vanishes completely after two thirds of the story, he is as righteous as in 12 ANGRY MEN (1957, 9/10); seeing as his swan song, Laughton withstands his splendor wonderfully and his eloquence in oratory is second to none. Two surprisingly enacted performances are from a suave Pidgeon, whose disparaging tongue-lashing to Van Acherman is perfectly on the nose, and a square-shouldered Murray carries a more tortuous story development and emanates an absorbing shock wave. I put all four in leading category, since in supporting circle, Tone, Ayres, Meredith (riveting as a key witness mouthing slanders) and even Tucker (the paunchy pimp totally incongruous with the bureaucratic atmosphere) are equally contending along with a sophisticated Tierney past her prime but her finesse never recedes.

In a nutshell, ADVISE & CONSENT is an exemplar of political drama, and more unexpectedly it beckons a revisit and revaluation of ANATOMY OF A MURDER for me, where I may not give enough credit for Preminger's calculated camera scheduling and detached phlegm out of his source material.

The Way We Are (Tin shui wai dik yat yu ye)

The literal meaning of its original Chinese title is "the day and night of Tin Shui Wai", Tin Shui Wai is a northwestern area of Hong Kong and is noted for its public housing estates, where mostly low-income families inhibit, Ann Hui's heartfelt picture centers on a single mother Mrs. Cheung (Paw) and her teenage son Ka-on (Leung), through their kitchen-sink daily life, it cogently reflects our modern society's interpersonal relations with spontaneous casualness and certainly Hui's best work I've ever watched (I have yet to see A SIMPLE LIFE 2011)!

The film runs effortlessly to rotate around Cheung and Ka-on's quotidian doings, Cheung works in a supermarket and Ka-on idles at their boxy apartment since it is summer vacation. Granny Leung Foon (Lai-wan Chan), a new neighbor who lost her daughter recently and her son-in-law remarried, Leung Foon's solitary life is singled out naturally through her entry scenes (buy a paltry portion of beef for herself, the meat vendor even fastidiously complains one of her coins is black and demands a swap), records more closely to her meals (the same beef fried with cabbage being consumed in both lunch and dinner), the artistry is all in the details. Leung Foon is typically protective and penny-pinching, but her heart will gradually open to Cheung and Ka-on, since a near neighbor is better than a distant cousin, among them, a sensitive surrogate family bond is developing and culminating after a tearjerking talking heart to heart on a bus back from a fruitless attempt to visit Foon's grandson.

Meanwhile, the backstory of Cheung and the tacit alienation between Cheung and her mother, her well-off brothers are all steadily unraveling, Cheung is a woman full of pride, she can undertake hardships, she never solicit any remuneration for bringing up two brothers, but her mother thinks it is her tomfoolery to struggle in poverty, this creates a knot between them, but family is always family, there is no grudges among them, Cheung's swallow nest congee betokens that tellingly.

Hee Ching Paw and Lai-wan Chan are pitch perfect in their lifelike performances (which incredibly counters their theatrical training), newcomer Chun-lung Leung is also a force of nature, here is a young boy without any rebellious traits (no gamble, no girlfriend problem, no drug abuse, no religious hindrance), his upbringing is the most laudable feat and yet Hui achieves that by no hyperbole at all. If you are a Hong Kong cinema connoisseur, you will be thrilled to see a cameo from a comely Idy Chan (15 years after her retirement from the screen).

Ann Hui is a tower of strength in current HK cinema scenery, she is less internationally-recognized than Johnny To, but her cannon is so rich and diverse and her unique mastery of humanistic care should enlist her name among the most overlooked directors of all time!


Stumbling upon this eponymous tie-in of THE WHO's 1973 rock opera album QUADROPHENIA comes as simple as a happenstance out of a grab bag, haven't heard of the album and being an outsider to this period of mods fashion, it is a primitive yet purest experience to appreciate a film on its own terms.

It is another REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955, 8/10) youth ill at ease, a telling zeitgeist encapsulation recounts a young mod's contradiction against the world in 1960s, his family, his job, his friends, his idol, and his love interest, all fail to gratify him. When the only thing he is left with is a revamped vespa, his destructive bravado indicates whether it is a resounding emblem of all perish together or a belated disillusion to bode farewell to his vapid and futile past? Fortunately the film chooses the latter (unlike the album's more radical stance), so it is a more generically pleasing alternative, but since our protagonist is not such a sympathetic character, a whiff of insouciance is irrevocable to eschew even in the culminating sequences alongside a magnificent precipice.

The mods vs. rockers commotions play a key role in venting the discontent among sociopaths, anarchists and boredom-driven young generation, which is universally pertinent to elsewhere in the world, we may blame youth for their narrow-minded prejudices, but the adult world depicted here is no more appealing neither. Phil Daniels and his pals (Wingett, Davis and Shail) exude excellent street cred of the fashion, although none of them galvanizes me into any further inspection, save Leslie Ash's promiscuous lass, she is the only one seems to be cool about what's happening around and understand the ephemeral phase of idiocy. Sting has a supporting role as mechanical as one can imagine despite of his gorgeousness, and a budding Ray Winstone in his seldom seen role as the injured party of a brawl.

The songs from the namesake album segues fluently throughout the film, nostalgia works much better in audio than visual this time I must say, it is a movie attracts its own cult followers and its socio-cultural astuteness may be worthy of a conscientious rediscovery if put inside a time capsule and wait to be exhumed a few more generations later.

Another Earth

ANOTHER EARTH is an acclaimed indie output from 2011 which brings us a rising actress Brit Marling and a director on Hollywood's watch-list, Mike Cahill, his feature debut is a soft Sci-Fi allegory (another earth appears on sight and breaks synchronicity of the parallel worlds) varnished with a mumblecore maneuver which tackles the redemption after an inadvertent car accident.

On the night of the emergence of earth no.2, Rhoda (Marling) was behind the wheel and under the influence, being enraptured by the unfathomable discovery, she ran into another car and instantly killed the wife and son of professor John Burroughs (Mapother). Being a minor at that time, Rhoda was only sentenced in jail for four years, when she was released, she found out John had awaken from a coma, so she approached him as a cleaner, meanwhile she also applied to be a volunteer recruited as the first earthling contingent to embark on another earth. When her entanglement with John went beyond her grip, another earth might purvey another chance both for his loss and her repentance.

Curbed by its meager budget, in certain moments, the movie looks rather substandard in its home video quality, but it doesn't discourage the crew to get the best out of what they have, the gradually enlarging images of earth no.2 sometimes with the accompany of the moon are so uncanny as to render the context a supernormal mood, as if there are undercurrents are running beneath the surface, a pre-apocalypse restlessness keeps invading us. That's why it is a marvelous film, it creates something much bigger than its fodder suggests and leaves no loose end, Marling and Cahill wrote a truly innovative script and the ending is bewilderingly unexpected in a way but also intrigues different interpretations of what had happened on that unknown planet, its mirror theory of parallel spaces is not new, but is applied smartly into the plot and does widen our horizons.

Marling is an out-and-out leading lady material, she balks, rues, hesitates, dares to face the consequences of her behavior, she listens, feels, generates an ineffaceable presence with subdued sentiments and forces audiences never lose attention towards her. Mapother (a veteran from TV series LOST), comes strong as a grieve-ridden widower, it is a substantial role for him to show his capacity and he is great not to mention his unique string performance with a saw, such a whimsical bravura to evoke a girl's libido! By the way, the score manufactured by Fall On Your Sword is absolutely on the nose.

ANOTHER EARTH is covered with a (not so fancy) Sci-fi coat, inside it delves into the deepest nexus between two wounded souls, one is an offender and another is the victim, but once a deception arrives as handy as a prelude, the fence can never be mended, even it is on another earth.

PS: The film and director Cahill are new-entries into my Top 10 list, plus both Marling and Mapother are among Top 5 in their respective acting branch of 2011.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012, 7/10) is a harbinger of another monolith box-office knockout with quite different teen spirit from TWILIGHT franchise. Its dystopian milieux strike as a resounding backbone to carry its social onus which is unusual to be seen among its peers. As the second part of the trilogy-turns-quartet (a lame strategy when shifts from the source novel to its cinematic adaption), CATCHING FIRE basically is an amped-up survival battle as its predecessor (with an elaborate overture to dovetail its storyline development), new helmer Francis Lawrence (I AM LEGEND 2007, 8/10; CONSTANTINE 2005, 7/10) barely achieves a middle-of-the-road tactic to fulfill his demanding task.

Since I tend to divide movie from its source material, I am a piece of blank paper towards the plot and its characters' ominous destiny, so the great pleasure comes from newcomers (name-checking Sam Claflin and Jena Malone) in the series since it did pique my curiosity to know whether they will survive in the end, both actors are camera-friendly and vividly evoke laughters and empathy. So tracking back to the love triangle, Hemsworth's part is tapering down quickly meanwhile J. Lawrence and Hutcherson manage to breakout from their asymmetrical relationship, although judging from all levels, she looks like a big sister (and caretaker) to him, but which also accomplishes an unorthodox heroine and hero pair against all odds. Tucci and Banks are as excellent as they could be with their flamboyant antics, while veteran Sutherland and Harrelson are unequivocally underemployed as the antagonist and the mentor respectively, plus the new blood Hoffman doesn't seem to exhaust too much effort to accentuate the final twist.

So it all strips down to Jennifer Lawrence's emotional curve out and out, save her swaying affections towards two boys, her awakening sense as a token of rebellion trudges through a laboriously-designed victories' tour, which also gives Katniss (passively though) a strong conviction what will become her goal in the chapters to come, the great part of the story has just begun!

I watched it on an IMAX screen, and the effect is no more than satisfactory, during the game time, the CGI looks cheaper and faker than usual top-notch Hollywood output, the entire hue is also a shade darker in view of its 2D default, one can barely get the full idea what is happening during the high points. Brightness aside, the definition of the images is another disappointing factor. So maybe one crucial reason (my own conspiracy theory) is that the cinemas' apparatus is not equivalent between here in Shanghai and in USA, where it gained raving reviews, but as far as I am concerning, the technique bloopers are too blatant to overlook, markedly mar the movie for me, but I will keep as loyal as possible for the remaining two successors (both will still be under the tiller of Francis Lawrence), just because Julianne Moore is on board now as a key role, god bless the mockingjay!

Teorema (Theorem)

After my bittersweet reaction towards Pasolini's TRILOGY OF LIFE (1971-1974), I tend to be a little heedful to wade into his canon, so not until vaguely 6 years after, I find a chance to watch his another work of indecipherable philosophy, THEOREM, which is introduced by a wobbly-shot interview in front of a factory and then segues with a silent canto under sepia tint, flickeringly introduces the family members of the story to be told.

The father (Girotti) is the factory owner, with his wife (Mangano), daughter (Wiazemsky), son (Soublette) and the maid (Betty) lives in a stately mansion, one day, arrives a young visitor (Stamp), whose occult charisma and amiable endowment are too glaring to resist, and one after another he seduces all the family members (starts with the maid and ends with the patriarch), then he leaves, but his benedictory actions precipitate the ripple effects which alter everyone's mindset.

The maid suddenly acquires an ability to cure and even conducts Ascension-like behavior; the daughter suffers from lovesickness and the son gets burgeoning inspiration for his art but also feels being enfettered; the matriarch constantly scouts out young boys for carnal pleasure and the patriarch starts to haunt himself with utter nudism. It's hard to conceive what's behind all these esoteric metaphysics after just watched the film once, but it is hardly an engaging one to invite immediate revisiting.

To dissect a Pasolini's film, its religious overtones are the elephant in the room, is Stamp the God himself or a godsend messenger to endow this quintet with his pansexuality? Another contentious part is how to read the aftermath? Among those five people, only the maid belongs to a lower class, but it is her, seems to possess a supernatural gift eventually, while the bourgeois family is entrapped in respective shackles and the ending shows no way out for any of them. It can be interpreted as a lash on the decaying middle class, only the poor and the proletarians are the beneficiaries from God's gift.

Morricone's accompanying score alters from eerie ambient to rich concerto, plus Mozart's Requiem, stratifies the film's mythical layers of causes and effects. Stamp's sex appeal has been magnified to the maximum with a contentious camera faithfully captures his congeniality and deadly smile. Betty is a standout among the recipients, gives an intent thousand-yard stare in her hallowed supremacy. By comparison bigger names like Mangano and Girotti never fully register too much into their slightly hollow revelations, maybe it is all intentionally disposed, and Pasolini remains to be an ineffaceable enigma to me.

Zangiku monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums)

I am a tyro in view of Japanese cinema (one reason why I often feel ashamed to call myself a cinema buff), and among Mizoguchi's filmography, my only previous viewing is his later epic saga SANSHO THE BAILIFF (1954, 7/10), a haunting revenge tale with a cogent message about sacrifice and redemption, whereas in THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUMS, which is shot much earlier, pre-WWII, the same ideas have been incubated through a love story barred by the class gulf, Otoku (Mori) is a symbol of devotion and forbearance and Kikunosuke (Hanayagi) is a man of moral integrity, occasionally under the affliction of hardship, he is worn out and evinces rather disappointing male chauvinism, but she accepts and assimilates all these negative effluvia until the ultimate sacrifice, as long as Kikunosuke can regain his social status and fame through his bona-fide acting after years of studying and training. What a role model couple, depicted as the kernel of the mentality of Japan at that time, behind every successful man there is a capable wife, who doesn't has her own ranking or vocation, but should be fully devoted and (if lucky) intelligent to assist her husband (maybe now is still the same), a standpoint may sound outdated and even putrid nowadays.

At the first scene, the novel milieu of Kabuki brings immediate exotic flavor to foreign viewers, but it is hard to be truly appreciated in an outsider's eyes, I can not tell the qualitative leap of Kikunosuke's acting skill, plus the orbit of the plot is stereotyped and take the twist and turn for granted, Hanayagi and Mori's acting is too hammy for my taste as well.

But impressively the film contrives outstanding mise en scène, the camera never dare to be too near its characters, as we watch from a distance, everything is presented in an implicit rhythm with gracefulness and subtlety, which wholesomely leads its viewers through the voyage of a tearjerker behind the times with its mellifluous soundtrack sets the mood.

I might feel a bit disheartened about this film, but it never too late to excavate the treasure of Japanese cinema, so I will keep up and continue to divulge my true feelings after watching them.

PS: one interesting note, I find it rather peculiar to put salt on watermelon, at least not in my culture, the mixed salty and sugary flavor doesn't seem to be scrumptious to me, anyone who has the experience can give an explanation?


Travel in India, but I will never miss any chance to experience a cinema-going activity in any exotic locale, not to mention it is Alfonso Cuarón's GRAVITY, the sensationally topical follow-up to CHILDREN OF MEN (2006, 9/10), a firmly prospective Oscar-bait and is on its way to procure an unanimous triumph from both audiences and critics, domestically and internationally, a rare feat which is hailed as the most innovative film in executing the ubiquitous 3D technology after AVATAR (2009, 9/10).

I was at a relatively large 3D screen hall, but if you can find a screen with IMAX plus 3D, which is the quintessential option. The film runs a succinct 96-minutes, at first I found myself a bit distracted by the murkiness of the screen with the clumsy 3D glasses double-glazing my myopic spectacles, one primary reason why I don't enjoy 3D films on the whole, so as to I didn't quite adjust myself to appreciate the opening scene, thankfully a belated captivation comes when the debris attacks, this survival tale begins to gnaw at its audience in a very good and exciting way.

Floating in the infinite emptiness, the extremity of terror and helplessness is oppressive and overwhelming, Sandra Bullock confidently and believably pilots us into a journey of wonders, we don't know what's the odds here for her to pull it off the miraculous landing on earth, it is her relentless mettle and stamina shock us, inspire us and strike a chord with us. Bullock's hallmark of underplaying her character's choppy emotion does a clean sweep to deliver a top-notch impact in spite of a comparatively thin script, it is a tour-de-force performance in her career and a hard-earned honor for an actress who can overcome the glass ceiling to lead a commercially prosperous Sci-Fi fare in her age (what's more important, she is also a top-billing comedian presently). Clooney serves slickly as the experienced but not-too-lucky astronaut, most of the time he is hidden inside the space helmet and uniform, but generates a wake-up call on the nose when he displays his usual Clooney-esque mien, Cuarón does know what audiences want.

GRAVITY is a ground-breaker, a high-tech adventurer and seeker, and fingers crossed it will eventually give DP Emmanuel Lubezki his overdue golden statue after 5 nominations (divinely shot scenes include the trademark ever-rotating long takes, the resurrection emblem of a fetus inside the uterus, the final victory when she rises out of the sea as a giantess, etc.), maybe for Cuarón and his sterling production team as well (sound department, art production and visual stunt). It is a film beyond everyone's imagination and it edifies you so much with so little to tell, like an essay, it is concise but cogent, and with a collateral effect to blow your mind.

PS: I am planning a rematch when the picture will arrive at the end of November in China, hopefully in an IMAX screen finally.

Before Midnight

We only know Jesse and Céline for two days in their lives (BEFORE SUNRISE 1995, 8/10; BEFORE SUNSET 2004, 9/10), but as if we have invested too much already, so at the beginning of this third chapter, when we realize that they have been living together for all these 9 years by now and even had two twin girls, is it a truly romantic fairytale comes true or the day-to-day reality has eroded the edges and corners and exhausted their acuity in dissecting what they are really thinking? The triad of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke will present us a most satisfactory delight delving into these two soul mates' current states of mind.

Again tracing a one-day journey of the couple in their last day of their summer getaway in Southern Greece, in the morning, they see off Jesse's son Hank in the airport, who has to return to his mother, Jesse's ex-wife, which aggravates Jesse's paternity guilt for being absent in most of Hank's life, elicits an idea to move back to USA with the entire family, while they're driving back from the airport, the discord occurs when Céline rebuffs the connotation of the unscheduled idea, and a time-bomb is ticking, the first long take in the car signals as a gambit to re-ignite the audience members' coveted interest in their love story.

Under the magnificent scenery of this ancient land, their farewell lunch with friends carries a casual spirit but the small talk is overflowing with engaging and emotively touching insights about love from different ages and experiences, Jesse and Céline are mainly listeners, but Delpy manage to pull off a splendid ad lib mimics a brainless bimbo flirting with Jesse the writer and talking about Romeo and Juliet, so hilarious and this is a patina when they are surrounded with other people.

Later, they leave their daughters to friends and head to a hotel since they are treated to have a private evening in a hotel to culminate their last night there (with a couple massage coupon), clearly it is a god-given opportunity for them to express real thoughts without the interference of their children. Meandering in the town, everything is like deja vu, they are like two people deeply in love with each other and the sexual attraction is simmering when they reach the room, but their carnal engagement is interrupted by a pivotal call from Hank, their following tête-à-tête turns sours when Céline bickers about her sacrifice in the relationship and the frustration of parenting, utters discontent and spurns the prospect of moving to USA, meanwhile Jesse appears to be the calm one, but his passive-aggressive strategy fails to appease her and they begin to blame faults to each other, until Céline storms out and leaves the deal-breaker " I don't love you anymore". From convivial to acrid, it is so spot-on in everyman's world, then the ending plays a nice trick on the ambivalent possibilities of their future, fingers-crossed a fourth one will come another 9 years later and it will be worth the wait.

Thumbs up to both Hawke and Delpy's scintillating acting, their resounding rapport and flawless two-hander should have earned some serious awards recognition apart from their effervescent script, good luck for a third time, Delpy could be a dark horse to bag a BEST LEADING ACTRESS nomination, and she is also French, Oscar voters, remember?

Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (Préparez vos Mouchoirs)

Oscar's BEST FOREIGN PICTURE crowner from French director/writer Bertrand Blier, whose cannon I have been contacted for the first time.

In a straightforward opening, the movie starts bluntly as a ménage-à-trois between a married couple Raoul (Depardieu) and Solange (Laure) and a stranger in the restaurant Stéphane (Dewaere), and proceeds along the romanticized "I am willing to do anything for the woman I love" commitment, in order to woo a sullen and fainting spells struck Solange, the two men pull out all their skills to earn Solange's smile but of no avail, the banters and collisions between Raoul and Stéphane spark adequate laughters in the first half of the picture (propelled by the exploitation of Laure's nudity and a shoehorned sidekick played by the one-of-the-kind Serrault), but two men is insatiable for Solange, who is just knitting and scrubbing all day (the recurring sweaters she knitted for various characters in the movie is too obtrusive to overlook), silently vexed by her sterility.

In the second half, the three encounter a precocious 13-year-old Christian (Riton) in a summer camp, whose high IQ combines a angelic appearance fills the hole of Solange's heart and her surging maternal rush, there are explicit scenes here are rather PG-13 vis-à-vis the underage Riton, but no alarmist needed since it is made of France and now is 21st century, but a sure thing is films like this are beyond doubt to receive the honor in the Oscar race now as 35 years ago, let's wait and see how BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013) will pan out. Anyhow, the dissolution of the trio is inevitable and Solange's comeuppance has been crafted out of a farcical yet remarkable fulfillment, considering how she is objectified as a dumb chick in the beginning, men and women are truly two species living in their lone realms where has no convergence at the end of the road.

The cast is rather personable, however there is a nostalgic sigh to see Depardieu in his exuberant youth with visible chin frame and square figure; and uncannily, the late Dewaere died of a mysterious suicide when he was 35 (in 1982) like his idol in the film, Mozart, but the two are plain goofy and comical with their own tact in sharing the same woman. Laure holds together an indecipherable image with her earthly body and distant beauty, Riton is an outstanding discovery given his demanding task to seduce a lady twice his age. Georges Delerue's winsome score is catchy and plays charmingly with the narrative arc. In a nutshell, GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS' advanced value of modern relationship and extensive pluck in digging into a taboo subject is recommendable and not fades away with the consumption of time.

The Servant
The Servant(1964)

Losey and Pinter's first collaboration (they would continue their rapport in ACCIDENT 1967 and THE GO-BETWEEN 1970), THE SERVANT imposes an alluring tale of a subversive master-and-servant relationship, with heavy homo erotic undertones (the author of the source novel Robin Maugham is "defiantly homosexual") way ahead of its era, so it is time to revive this hidden gem to make it circulate to a more open-minded demography for its sheer marvelousness.

A young aristocrat Tony (Fox) hired Barrett (Bogarde) as his servant to administer his house, but Barrett has his own plan to manipulate Tony to be completely reliant on him, so assisted by his complicit Vera (Miles), and hampered by Tony's supercilious fiancée Susan (Craig),
it is a binge of seduction, betrayal, debauchery, drug abuse and mind games.

Douglas Slocombe, the prestigious British cinematographer, brings the film to life with his ingenious camerawork, the setting is largely confined interior to Tony's residence (dominantly in the shots is a bookshelf-shape door to the living room, camouflage beyond the veneer is a running theme here), Slocombe is ravishing the eroticism and tautness by his superlative deployments with mirrors (it is in the poster!), shadows, shades (Tony's silhouette hiding behind the shower curtain during a hide-and-seek) and sublime focus-alteration, refracted by the B&W prism, the potency is mind-blowing and soul-cleansing, up to the very end, the transcendent oddity of the situation could only pique one's curiosity for more, for the imbroglio is so fascinating, so nihilistic, anticipates A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971, 8/10)'s benumbing ridicule.

John Dankworth's alternately light-mood, lyric, jazz-infused and riveting score is a handsome companion to Pinter's satirical and pun-slinging screenplay (under the weather? poncho and gaucho?), when Tony addresses to Susan that "he (Barrett) looks like a fish", it hits the bull's eye. Bogarde continues his bold glass-ceiling-breaking endeavor after VICTIM (1961, 8/10), bags another self-revealing role and unleashes his nefarious audacious in the duality of Barrett's servant-and-master changeover; while his on-screen prey James Fox, who, indeed, is equally brilliant in his breakthrough picture, out of four main characters, none of them are good-natured, but he is the only one can collect viewers' sympathy, and one may not root for him, but witness his downfall nevertheless needs more than the fondness of his willowy figure and innocent eyes. Miles and Craig, the two female companions, can not receive the same laud, Miles has a strident voice and being excruciatingly annoying whenever she talks and her performance is in excess of theatricality, which luckily would tune down in her later effort in RYAN'S DAUGHTER (1970, 7/10) and THE HIRELING (1973, 6/10); Craig, whose snobbish and frigid poise is off-putting, albeit she has the most recondite sensibilities to present in the frenzied coda, the efficacy is beyond her ken.

THE SERVANT may be Losey's finest work and should be appreciated more, it is a divine psychological drama with a latent homosexual struggle which perpetually beleaguers human nature and finally we reach the opportune time when we can look directly into each other's eyes without feeling ashamed or offensive anymore.

The Verdict
The Verdict(1982)

Another courtroom drama from the director who brings us 12 ANGRY MEN (1957, 9/10), Sydney Lumet inducted Paul Newman into a performance of his lifetime, but as usual the Academy members thought otherwise.

As anyone who is familiar with the pattern of an underdog's courtroom victory, THE VERDICT is strictly following the procedure, Newman plays Frank Galvin, a washed-out ambulance chaser who receives a wake-up call in his fifties, stands up for his client just for once, for justice. Needless to say it is a lopsided trial, Frank and his aid-cum-mentor Mickey (Warden), whose plaintiff is a woman in a vegetative state, versus two cocky defendants (both well-respected doctors) and their stellar defense team, led by a top-notch attorney Ed Concannon (Mason).

Apart from his omni-competent opponent, Frank has to endured a worst-case scenario during his rushed preparation for the trial, the disappearance of a key witness, an uncooperative insider, a maledictory judge (O'Shea), a questionable deponent (Seneca), a hostile client (the plaintiff's brother in law) who takes umbrage at Frank's arbitrary turndown of a handsome settlement from the defendant for their medical negligence. And it is a miracle he could still squeeze some time to have a fling with a mysterious divorcée Laura (Rampling).

Things will nonetheless turns to a rosy side for Frank, as his trials and tribulations will eventually pay off, which doesn't prevent one from sensing frustration to witness all the paddings before a bleak light of hope comes to the rescue, a dogged Frank fortuitously grabs a clue lead to a game-changer in the accident, but meanwhile an unexpected betrayal is the last blow to complicate the case. And the ending with an prolonged and irritating ringing of the telephone, does certify a stark love-or-hate stance for its audiences.

However, Newman is impeccable here, he is a pampered child living in an adult's body, strives for his last chance to revive his life, a salvation of his ill-fated past, during the taxing process, he also begins to examine himself, to overcome his weakness (a terrific rendition of a panic attack) and reflect his goodness from the pestilent barriers around him and around us too, one long-take of him making a phone call with his adversary manifests Newman's top-tier stretch in bringing authentic force of emerging into his character.

Preciously, the film is not an outward feel-good film, Rampling's stern-cum-icy presence and Laura's underdeveloped storyline mars the narrative but at the same time mirrors Frank's own rite-of-passage, so we might not feel much relieved when at the end of the day he won the case, it intrigues us more after the victory, what is next for Frank?

James Mason is Oscar-nominated along with Newman and the film in toto seized five nominations (including BEST PICTURE and DIRECTOR), his malevolent silver-tongue and smug sanctimony is spot-on, a paradigm of the miasma of our legal system. But Warden in my opinion is also Oscar-worthy, restrained yet faithfully being a helping hand and a firm buttress for both Frank and the spectators!

Thor: The Dark World

A crammed cinema-going for the weekend is a belated diversion since not too much going on for the past month in the burgeoning Chinese market. The chapter one THOR (2011, 5/10) and the mega-amalgam THE AVENGERS (2012, 5/10) didn't lure me into Thor's fan base, but this sequel does boost the franchise's morals by further intermingling the epic apocalypse between the vast Gods' realm and the puny but ego-maniacal earth, saw it in its over-charged 3D version (nearly impossible to find a 2D screening nearby), THOR: THE DARK WORLD is a massive crowd-pleaser, terrific art production and the trappings of a Marvel vehicle, shrewdly fictionalizes the love-and-hatred bromance between Thor and Loki, which is much hyped as the dominant draw for this action-packed escapade.

There is darkness before the birth of the universe, so as to against the plot of Malekith (Eccleston) to utilize an amorphous weapon called Aether to set the universe back into pitch-blackness, Thor (Hemsworth) has to team up with Loki (Hiddleston) to rescue his earth girlfriend Jane (Portman) who has been infected by Aether and being pursed by Malekith and his toadies, notably, a mutated fiend Algrim (Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

Whiling the most entertaining part comes the polarized tenors of the Asgard kingdom and the contemporary earth, one is solemn, majestic, atavistic and Shakespearean (thanks to Kenneth Branagh for setting the tone in THOR 2011) and the other (this time the locale is an overcast London) is glossy, modern, farcical and doomed to be pulverized. The spectacles are generally gratifying and on a par with the earlier IRON MAN 3 (2013, 6/10) to say the least.

Wonderful comic relief from the earthbound trio, Dennings, Skarsgård and Howard plus a surprising cameo by O'Dowd. Hemsworth and Portman are predictably playing the hero and his fearless girlfriend-in-danger default while Hiddleston easily grabs all the attention by influencing meatier character development, more ambiguous in his stance and a timely twist in the end can suffice to ignite fans' passion to the next installment, or maybe a Loki-based spin-off which will be more intriguing and anti-trend in its own way. By any means it is a solid sequel which inherits the merits from its predecessor and put more verve into its gods vs. mortals contradiction, director Alan Taylor has well handled a hot potato, next step, sit and wait for CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) coming this upcoming April. 

The Letter
The Letter(1940)

To quell my intermittent Bette Davis mania, this time comes THE LETTER, a William Wyler helmed Film-Noir, garnered 7 Oscar nominations including BEST PICTURE, DIRECTOR, ACTRESS and SUPPORTING ACTOR, a rare fete for the usually overlooked genre in the voters' perspective.

Davis is Leslie, a lone wife in Singapore with her rubber plantation administrator husband Robert (Marshall), mercilessly shoots a man to death whom she claims to be a sex offender, and under the aegis of her loyal friend-cum-lawyer Howard (Stephenson), she seems to be able to get away from the murder, but a letter proves it is only her side of the story and the price to buy the letter will cost all the fortune they have.

Leslie is a quintessential femme fatale, a haughty but lonely woman in a hostile oriental surrounding, erodes with daily blandness (lacing is her ostensible escape), Davis is a marvelous presence in eliciting sympathy for her unsympathetic character through her bulging eyes, they allure viewers to speculate the unspoken stuff, particularly when she resort to Howard for help, and her secret starts to divulge, with hindsight the plot is quite discernible, but it is Davis' pure force of personality makes the whole case a beguiling enigma, even until the ultimate confession, one might find it hard to believe the truth is as plain as it is. Thanks to the ludicrous Production Code, her demise is sine qua non, but the coda is nevertheless a spine-chilling one with the effects of the ominous full moon shades.

Stephenson is the antithesis of Davis' jealousy-ridden, murder-possessed viciousness, oscillating between a decent lawyer and close friend, his suave and dispassionate complexion also undergoes a fatal makeshift, his two-hander with a cunning Victor Sen Yung is textbook accurate in exposing racial prejudices at its time (even being an Asian myself, I was purposefully motivated to loathe Victor's sugarcoating extortion, nonetheless, it is a well-acted piece of work for an Asian performer to occupy quite a long screen-time).

Sondergaard, as the other woman in a winning stance, conscientiously clad in her clunky Malay outfit and felt absurd in her Euroasian lineage (it is an inevitable side effect to pass off a Caucasian as an Oriental), but she impressively steals the limelight whenever her menacing visage is theatrically highlighted, while she is more than an acquisitive money-seeker, her venom is tangible and her dagger is sharpened and will taste some blood.

Although the finale is expedient and falls into banality to be morally corrected (she just cannot fool herself to restart her life with a man truly loves her in spite of all her wrongdoings), Wyler's cannon is always a golden mine for cinephile to devour and cherish, THE LETTER is a less achiever than THE HEIRESS (1949, 9/10) due to its foibles in my humble opinion, but Davis should have brought home another Oscar as Olivia de Havilland did.

The Conformist

Bertolucci is another wunderkind in the industry, at the age of 30, his fourth feature film, THE CONFORMIST has been proved to be a timeless classic, which I feel privileged to watch it now for the very first time.

Tilting camera angle, impeccable shots paralleling the moving train and zooming in from the external side of the window, sensual hues, cubistic buildings, punctilious light and shade deployment (Professor Quadri, the hunchbacked man being introduced by his silhouette), fluid ballroom dancing sequences, the bleak and cold-hearted manslaughter in a wintry woodland, all emerge as consecutive surprises and gustos along its non-linear narrative.

Marcello (Trintignant), a newly-recruited fascist member in Rome, is assigned for an assassination of his old professor Quadri (Tarascio), who dwells in Paris now with her young wife Anna (Sanda), the film hops back and forth episodically in recounting the newly-wed Marcello's matrimony life with Giulia (Sandrelli), a petit bourgeois trophy wife; their honeymoon to Paris with a clandestine aim to carry out the task until Marcello compellingly falls for Anna; meanwhile Bertolucci allocates episodes to sort out Marcello's personal lives, his attachment with his amicable blind friend Italo (Quaglio), his drug-addicted mother (Milly) and lunatic father (Addobbati); but underneath his placid and gentile veneer, lies an unfading quandary, stems from his encounter with a pedophile (Clémenti) in his childhood and his latent homosexuality which pulses him to a perpetual and professed seeking of normalcy.

Trintignant is exceedingly under-appreciated in his sophisticated and self-constrained portrayal of a man put in contradiction with almost anything around him, perfectly tallies with the political message of the film, a stooge, put-upon in order to rectify his own weakness, indiscriminately clutches any straw to obey conformability, while in the end, a sense of loss and disparagement is his own bitter fruit. Sanda and Sandrelli are stunning in their own distinctive beauties, the former is resolute, swinging both ways and emanating the like-a-moth-to-a-flame fatalism; the latter imbues a more traditional feminine allure with little clue about what's in her husband's mind.

Also it is noteworthy to give credit to Georges Delerue, who produced a spellbound score underlining the varying tenors of Marcello's state of mind. THE CONFORMIST is a pièce de résistancer with its idiosyncratic aesthetic charisma to crown Bertolucci as the most important auteur in Italian cinema after his illustrious progenitors!

Le passé (The Past)

Since A SEPARATION (2011, 9/10) has been my runner-up film of 2001 hitherto, I couldn't be more expectant to Farhadi's follow-up THE PAST. Relocating the milieu to France and signing up more internationally bankable names (Bejo replaced Marion Cotillard due to schedule conflicting), Farhadi has formulated a more universally relevant story to buttress his filmmaking journey, thus it transpires to be an astute move and the film is dedicatedly intriguing and unwaveringly laying stress on the fatigued moral yardstick gauging by modern standards.

Similar to A SEPARATION, this film is also triggered by a divorce, Ahmad (Mosaffa), an Iranian man, goes back to France after four year to accomplish the divorce procedure with his ex-wife Marie (Bejo), who is expecting to marry Samir (Rahim). During this period, Ahmad has to live under the same roof with Marie and Rahim, with two daughters Luci (Burlet) and Léa (Jestin) from Marie's first marriage, and Samir's son Fouad (Aguis). In order to suss out Luci's hostility towards the remarriage, a suicidal incident causes Samir's wife in a coma surfaces up and jeopardizes the lives of those who are involved.

Barren with music (not until the end credits roll), Farhadi proves again he is a mastermind of singling out precise emotive nuances from domestic entanglements, minutely digs in the roots of the problems, teases out the best renditions from a first-rate cast and maximumly bypasses any sappy platitude which is concomitant with the drama set-up. DP Mahmoud Kalari examines the storyline with a steadier hand than in A SEPARATION, the transcendent ending shot single-handedly elevates the movie's soured stalemate to a plaintive eulogy to love's most instinct primitive force.

The performance is the film's strongest suit, Bejo deservingly won Best Actress in Cannes this year and her restrained volatility is awards-worthy. Mosaffa (the husband of actress Leila Hatami and a booming director himself) mostly appears as audience's on-screen proxy, leads us to unearth "what had happened" scenario, a busybody and a wannabe-hero in the mess. But the most admirable player here is Rahim, who is utterly composed and sidelined in the first half of the movie, but he is seething with ire and guilt in himself, a scarred psyche beyond redemption.

Burlet (resembles a young Cotillard) and Aguis are glittering discoveries from the movie, Ouazani is pitch perfect in a limited but key role which alters the perception of the entire myth. Farhadi leaves many loose ends here, there is little elaboration on Ahmed's past and his background, and the truth about the suicide will lie forever with the comatose woman, but it is a highly accomplished woe of tale, relatable high and low, a gratifying follow-up after A SEPARATION and a solid brick of Farhadi's wall of fame!

Red River
Red River(1948)

Howard Hawks' western venture starring Wayne and Clift (his career debut indeed) as two plumb opposite types of men from almost every aspect, lead a mighty cattle migration in the vast prairie and notably to stride across the red river, but en route, the bigoted Thomas (Wayne) slowly loses his trust among his crew, and dissent emerges, eventually his adopted son Matthew (Clift) has to oust Thomas in order to finish their drive to the right destination, an ultimate chase from Thomas will heighten the drama to its peak.

To say nothing of the deployment of the night stampede rumpus, plainly wielding such a massive quantity of cattle is undisputedly taxing for the crew meanwhile an awe-inspiring spectacle for its audiences in the primitive black and white. All along this laborious trek, there are presumable threats looming large (native Indians or borderline gangsters), but what's fatal to the solidarity is the disruption from within, Thomas is a hard-bitten fogey, his tyrannical domination of the bunch is short-sighted, but in propria persona, he is not a loathsome character (at least not as he assumes to be), he has a wound in his heart, a responsibility to shield his properties, and a paternal attachment to Matthew, so he takes the mutiny too seriously and there is a death wish in his heart to sacrifice and sublimate himself to a higher cause of love, very stupid and rather egotistic in hindsight, but probably is the fashion for the sake of manhood during the time within a tunnel vision.

However, rather interestingly Matthew represents exactly another fashion of manhood, a percipient, tender-hearted gunslinger with a slender figure and an appealing face, exuding an irresistible sex appeal which panders to meet more modern eyes. Thus the conflict can also be reckoned as a combat between these two sorts of aesthetics, yet, in my humble opinion, the biggest letdown is the hasty ending, in the brink of an eye, a gratuitous buffer (a babbling Dru) abruptly jumps into the foreground and lambastes them in a most comic way which is not align with the wholesome tone whatsoever, then everything has been miraculously resolved, what an inadequate happy ending and an overkill to all the tension amassed for almost 2 hours.

Anyway, it is a solid western picture and Wayne even proves to be a qualified thespian against a ravishing Clift, Brennan is the comic relief and Dru is literally redundant with a ridiculous and belly-laughing reaction after being shot in the shoulder by an arrow. But the most LOL reference is a tacit pun comes alive with Ireland's banter with Clift - "There is a good-looking gun you were about to use back there, can I see it? Maybe you'd like to see mine!", hell yeah, no one can resist that!

Heavenly Creatures

At the age of 33, before the Hollywood calling, Peter Jackson has already presented the world a fundamentally riveting piece of work in his homeland New Zealand, HEAVENLY CREATURES, an intricate retelling of a horrendous matricide case based on a real story in 1950s, and the felons are two adolescent girls.

It is a "too friendly" relationship between two schoolgirls albeit their very different background, Paulie (Lynskey) is from a lower class, always sulky and socially outcast, while Juliet (Winslet) is from a British middle class (her father is a college professor and mother is a marriage counsellor) with a free-spirited soul, but they share the same pursuit and chimera, the idolatry of Mario Lanza and the aversion of Orson Welles, revel in their fantasies of the Fourth World with plasticine-made characters inhabit in the storybook Borovnia, they become inseparable and any force to tear them apart will stir up trouble which turns out to be lethal and kamikaze.

Frenetically shot in the opening sequences, the bloodstained faces of Paulie and Juliet predestine the shocking value of the sordid ending, but runs in parallel is their blithe chasing and cavorting in their most joyful days, they develop a borderline sapphic relationship, but the story doesn't necessarily hinge on their " unwholesome" sexuality, in fact, it is way more complicated than sex appeal, the intimate connection between those two girls is a godsend, a telepathic ability which only can be communicated between them, thus anyone else is shut out from their world, and eventually Paulie's mother (Peirse) will fall prey to their delusive freedom.

The film is both Lynskey and Winslet's big screen debut, the former recently got a BREAKTHROUGH AWARD nomination in Gotham Awards for HELLO I MUST BE GOING 2012, which is such a laughingstock since her debut work here is a tremendous force of nature and one of the most challenging role for her age, rebelling with a cause, Lynskey competently demonstrates both the evil and the compassionate sides of Paulie. Kinslet is also great, Juliet's superior tone aside, she is a spoiled flower trapped in a dysfunctional family, only when they are together, they can evade the rotten and tedious reality and enjoy the true happiness. The supporting cast is well-selected, most of them are caricatured (i.e. Merrison's pedantic father of Juliet), but Peirse casts a varnish of self-involvement to her otherwise pedestrian role of a nagging-mother-turned-innocent-victim.

But it is Peter Jackson, whose expansive imagination works wonders here, one can feasibly detect his predilection to fictitious creations and gory violence, with the aid of DP Alun Bollinger, HEAVENLY CREATURES presents itself as a high-end paradigm of blending drama with surreal constituent, a bona-fide cinematic gem should not be overlooked.

The Son
The Son(2003)

With a stalking handheld camera relentlessly recording the kitchen-sink execution of a hyperbolical subject matter - retribution and redemption, Dardenne brothers downplay the excessive theatricality and map out a distinctively mundane presentation of the most authentic and accurate learning curve about tackling unbearable ire and haunting guilt, from which derives a sensitively tangible proxy-father-and-son bond.

Olivier (Gourmet), an instructor in a teenager rehab center voluntarily takes on Francis (Marinne), the murderer of his infant son 5 years ago, as his apprentice, who is 16 now and unbeknownst of his instructor's real identity, so is the audience until halfway through when Olivier converses with his newly-pregnant ex-wife (Soupart), and from then on, what is left for viewers is to wait quietly and see how the bubble bursts, an inevitable confrontation will show the true color of both. But cleverly, Dardenne brothers never bother to stoke the climax with usual filmic antics, all the tension has been heaped up simultaneously with the everyday proceeding, and very much inked with ingenious details (such as Olivier refuses to pay for Francis' lunch money when they grab a bite in a cafeteria), also, without the intruding music scores, THE SON is a cinematic fruit of its own kind, austere, voyeuristic and persistent, yet can easily generate the power of catharsis and has no worries about overkill. The ending has a great aftertaste if a first-timer may feel abrupt to a certain extent, there is a tacit understanding for both characters after the grapple, it is subtle and sensible, we don't know if they can reconcile since the scenario would not seemingly exist in a real world, but thanks to the creators' mind's eyes, it is no doubt a heartfelt film lays bare the universal sense of empathy in such a dire situation.

Gourmet and Marinne form an interesting pair with an invisible barrier between them, there is no showy parts but still a demanding job for both actors, an epitome in Dardenne brothers' oeuvres, Gourmet immerse himself fully into the character-building, mostly by body languages, but 2002 is a strong year for my film-viewing, so he nearly cracks into my Top 10 list, but Dardenne brothers again strut into the top tier and my personal appreciation for them is continuing ascending (after THE CHILD 2005, 7/10; LORNA'S SILENCE 2008, 8/10 and THE KID WITH A BIKE 2011, 8/10)!

High Noon
High Noon(1952)

An unorthodox and small-scale-designed western drama centers on a newly-wed-and-just-retired marshal (Cooper) who has to fence off a vengeful quartet of gunslingers all by himself after the townsfolk cold-shouldering his solicit for help. Directed by Oscar winning director Fred Zinnemann (JULIA 1977, 8/10; FROM HERE TO ETERNITY 1953, 7/10), HIGH NOON runs a succinct 85 minutes which neatly synchronizes with the storyline, after the arrival of the culprit of the gangsters, a heroic face-off sets the old scores with an annihilation of either side.

It is a 1 Vs. 4 predicament for our lone hero when number matters, Zinnemann launches an absorbingly direct route to unfold how the weathered-but-merry man suddenly plunges at his wits' end in less than 90 minutes (aided by Dimitri Tiomkin's fantastic Oscar-crowning score), his wife (Kelly) threats to leave him after her persuasion falls flat, his deputy marshal (Bridges) hangs up the badge due to some trivial jealousy issues, the judge (Kruger) is eager to flee, the mayor (Mitchell) doesn't want to spoil the veneer of peace and his mentor (Chaney Jr.) sympathizes him but refuses to get involved, while among the village people, some hold grudge towards him for self-serving reasons, others righteously offer their help but either is chickened out by the lopsided situation or too clumsy to wield a weapon. So more or less the huddled masses are complicity of the revenge plan of the quartet, a reluctant truth we have to admit and we are among them too if we are placed under a similar context, the downsides of human nature has been wondrously encapsulated by this compact piece of work. On the other hand, the execution of the gunfight can only be quoted as mediocre, anyway Zinnermann is never a keen action planner.

Cooper won his second Oscar for the film and gratifyingly carries the emotional curve from principled confidence to disillusioned cold feet, he is a good man who is too proud to overcome his own self-importance, he learned the lesson in a hard way. Kelly was on the cusp of her glory, her role as an anti-violence Quaker is a borderline controversy since finally she has blood on her hands too apart from a liability and hostage in the plot; the Mexican Jurado has a more intense presence although shamefully we never have a chance to hear the story from her side. Lloyd and Chaney Jr. stands out among the rest by a barn fight and one-liner delivery respectively. On a whole HIGH MOON is a genre-breaker among the Western pictures, its influences will last thanks to its morality-challenging acuteness.

PS: Have any one noticed the name of Kelly's role is Amy Fowler Kane, with Gary Cooper, is it this film THE BIG BANG THEORY's Shemy pair names after?

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

A prequel of the colossal moneymaker DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (2010, 7/10), which dominated the box office of Chinese National Holiday week (starts from 1st October) three years ago, and a similar (if not higher) lucrative income will repeat this year in the 7-days stretch too.

Saw the 3D version inside a hustle-and-bustle local multiplex with a full house audience, righteously Hark Tsui's strenuous endeavor in the state-of-the-art technology of visual stunt pays off handsomely this time, the film confidently dispenses awesome CGI full views to parade Tang Dynasty's palatial splendor, and conjures up a PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN derivative island quest, with nighttime cliff skirmish proffers a taut engagement of amazement, culminates with a sea dragon showdown to gratify the long-awaited anticipation. Also there are ample presentations of novel martial art feats (anti-physics notwithstanding) to cater for the target audiences.

But the film is at best to be referred as satisfying, compared to its predecessor, the whole "dragon king" case doesn't measure up to the intelligent reasoning required for a grave and ambitious scheme such as toppling over an entire nation, maybe it is because of a "young" detective Dee, not weathered enough yet. The freshly-recruited cast brings new and drop-dead gorgeous faces to the franchise (quintet of beauty,Chao, Feng, Lin, Kim and Angelababy in their prime appeal) , but they are all employed as chessmen to follow the procedure without any further digging into their personalities or plainly reduced to eye-candies. If one must pick the best from available, Carina Lau, majestically reprises her role as Empress Wu Zetian, years before the coronation, she already arbitrarily ministers the state affair behind the Emperor's throne.

Stating the obvious, the franchise enjoys an ongoing and surging bankroll which will secure further follow-ups, one advise to the screenwriters, don't defame the word "detective", in addition to cook a feast for eyes and ears, our brains also need something palatable to feed on. Plus if the ultimate weapon to quell the monster is poisonous food, maybe we should all pray for the huddled mass in any rate.


Opens with a lush rendition of Il Trovatore at Teatro La Fenice, SENSO is an ostentatious melodrama imprinted with Visconti's pronounced blue blood opulence, retells an Italian countess' (Valli) vain and poignant attempt to pursue her one-sided affection to an Austrian officer (Granger shines in the rich Technicolor palette as an Adonis), whose misogyny and promiscuity will cause his own doom and mar her mentality up to the hilt.

The film sets its time during the fall of Austrian occupation in Venezia 1866, Valli is wavering between her bureaucratic husband (Moog) and rioting cousin (Girotti), to break loose from the stalemate, she irrevocably falls for a young lieutenant in the opponent camp, but he is no knight in shining armor but a foul and spineless scoundrel with irresistible sheen of deadly charm. Granger's gorgeous loverboy image is a quintessential smokescreen to veil his despicable innards, but after all, it is a consensual deal despite of Valli's false hope, more significantly its anti-war signals have been forcibly cast by Granger's self-abandonment and the lousy war battlefield experienced by Girotti, which, more plausibly it is an intentional move by Visconti, a distraction from the central turmoil, but done with a tinge of amateurish fecklessness.

Valle shoulders on a profound effort to scrutinize a woman's inscrutable sexual desire which being repressed for too long, both she and Granger align themselves with Visconti's brimful-of-emotion style (again, thanks to Techincolor and the overstuffed score as well) which approximate the OTT threshold in certain degree, although falling out with Visconti eventually, Granger succeeds in bringing about his best screen persona and it was such a great era when a gay man can play an outright straight womanizer on the celluloid.

On the one hand SENSO fails to impress me as my favorite among Visconti's work of art, and scale-wise pales by comparison with LUDWIG (1972, 8/10) and THE LEOPARD (1963, 8/10), but on the other hand, only Visconti can flaunt such an overbearing melodrama with true mettle and without any compromise, a trendsetter would inspire later kindred spirits, for instance Baz Luhrmann's 3D adaption of the bourgeoise sumptuosity THE GREAT GATSBY (2013, 8/10).

Céline et Julie Vont en Bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating)

This Jacques Rivette's genre-defying opus is an unsung hero upon its release in 1974, but 40 years later when we are all stumped in light of the cornucopia of derivative outputs, this masterpiece attests that it is never too late to burrow into historical archives, advocate some hidden gems and introduce them to the fast food generation, and CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING could overtly widen one's filmic horizon by its unprecedented storytelling and the contagious jovial aura.

We are like in a blind man's bluff, the film begins with a head-scratching hide-and-seek tailing between Julie, a librarian and Celine, an amateurish magician, we will never know from the context whether they are acquaintances before or the first-sight attraction draws them closer, after a chirpy episode of putting out feelers, they lives together in a small apartment, where Celine casually mentions of her unpleasant experience working as a nanny for a mystified ménage-à-trois family, it intrigues Julie's curiosity, from then on, a very unique ghost-house yarn has been ingeniously unveiled through Celine and Julie's multiple impersonations as the reserved nanny in a boudoir drama.

The film is such a pioneer in its blending liberal modus operandi of whimsicality (the first half looks like everything is done impromptu) with elaborately calculated ad hoc murder scheme, Celine and Julie's laid-back and bubbly kindred spirit permeates the film and modulates its rhythm and pulse up to a labyrinthine fantasy, utterly absorbing and an influential progenitor to many future rule-breakers (MEMENTO 1999, 10/10 for instance).

It is a diptych in its cinematographic style as well, the insouciant nouvelle vague influence vs. a multi-angle observation indoors, which magnify Berto and Labourier's disparate temperaments, intensify Ogier and Pisier's distinctive mystique and functionally wrap us up into this whodunit during the long-haul.

Meanwhile, Rivette adequately leaves viewers many open threads to chew on, like the jumpy intercutting of the shots in the house during Celine's magic show, is a perplexing maneuver to lure us into the mystery, and it works. Also, one snippet when they let a coin to decide whose turn to visit the mansion, Julie cannily says "head I win, tail you lose", one should not miss the ephemeral stimulation which plainly gives more credits than its ostensible spontaneity.

At first glance, its 193 minutes running time looks daunting, but as I watched it separately in two days, it turned out pretty well. It is a film can wholly alter one's notion of story-telling in an anti-cinematic methodology, and Rivette pulls it off effortlessly, a must-see for all thirsty film gourmets plus, it has a sterling ending which will make all its time worth the wait.


Last year's South Korean box office champion (a No. 3 all-time grossing picture in the history of Korean cinema), this period drama stars Byung-hun Lee for a meaty dual role, the king and his doppelgänger scoundrel, intricately chronicles a spell of 15 days' clandestine regency under the helm of the said doppelgänger.

A grandeur of a period drama pivots heavily on its art design, set decoration, makeup and costumes whether or not can conjure a believable world of that time, as a result MASQUERADE is impeccable in all these aspects. Despite basically it is an interior chamber piece, a few outdoor shots meticulously dispense us legitimate solemnity and natural quaintness.

The outline of the story is quite straightforward, and all the ramifications are predictable, the transformation from a good-to-nothing to a righteous and gallant role model is the unflagging keynote, director Chang-min Choo interposes effectual gags in-between the brooding atmosphere, first time we saw a king breaks wind on screen and his eye-opening defecation formalities, which is gross at first glance, but the comical reaction is pure golden! (Hollywood should learn how to turn repellent vulgarity into some genuine laughter from it).

Finally Lee scoops up his representative work on big screen which could testify his talent beyond the awful exploitation of his taciturn Asian fighter figure in Hollywood action potboilers. Acting with his mother tongue, the constant changeover of manners and tones is a demanding task, he successfully nail both the imperial majesty and the antic street-smartness. What is more touching is among the set pieces where the expendable side characters face their doom, Lee's reactive performances are wonderfully empathetic, effectively efface the cliche and sappy default of a thin plot. Seung-yong Ryoo (the helping hand), Hyo-ju Han (the queen) and Gwang Jang (the eunuch) all offer a bit subtler presence pertains to their different functions.

There is an elephant in the room since everyone knows the impostor cannot be spared at any rate, so the film cunningly contrives a twist to lift the culmination which we cannot say is a mind-blowing one, at least it is a tenable one. Overall, the film is slightly over-stretching its sentimentality but nevertheless stands for a universal crowd-pleaser and a top-notcher of South Korean film industry.

Black Narcissus

A Powell-Pressburger collaboration recounts a quintet of nuns, running a convent in the exotic Himalayas mountainside, they teach lessons to native children, attend to the sick, plant vegetables, but their inner conviction is slowly eroding in the sequestered environment, in particular the restrained sexuality has been awaken by a male interloper, then madness and bedlam start to riot.

The most conspicuous feat of this 1947 Technicolor film is its remarkable cinematography (intense closeups, picturesque wide angles, tonal flashback shots etc.) and the art direction (the entire setting is built on studio lot yet it still can blow your mind away by its plainly stunning beauty), deservingly it won 2 Oscars in these categories, but shockingly, the film is shunned in all other competitions.

Adopted from Rumor Godden's novel, the film bears plenty of effort to underline the ethnic and religious disparities, although hiring Jean Simmons as an indigenous maiden without a single line but crudely emphasizing her sensuality and materialism is a cheap shot betrays the supremacy beneath the benefactor's benevolent smokescreen. Surely it is a UK production, unfortunately it is so scarce that an outsider can break out of the tunnel vision which hobbles one's full comprehension of another culture or lifestyle, even as acute and astute as team Powell-Pressburger.

A young Deborah Kerr brings about a broad range of capacities to endow Sister Clodaph with the contradicting personae which challenges her belief in a dire situation, her self-restraint battles with her yen towards a macho worldly man Mr. Dean (Farrar), a high-caliber rendition superbly counteracts Byron's Sister Ruth, a demented and vindictive soul can set the world on fire, Byron's explosive menace is spot-on and spine-thrilling, while both her and Kerr's images sport secular costumes are illuminating the screen leaving indelible glamour. Farrar's rustic countenance and rugged roughness makes him an apt choice for the sexual object and Sabu, whose effeminate manners could also spark controversy with his underdeveloped sub-plot.

BLACK NARCISSUS, by any criterion, is an unanimous and momentous accomplishment in the film history, it is a concisely-designed psycho-drama and a nod to its vertiginous climax - a heartfelt cliffhanger in its literal meaning.

World War Z
World War Z(2013)

Like gold dust, a hefty-invested blockbuster with a problematic partial re-filming (including a complete overhaul of the ending owing to its financial curb) and a procrastinated release date could actually trounce its foreboding karma and pans out to be a competent money-maker in the bloodthirsty summer season, not to mention has earned itself a sensational caption as " the highest grossing film ever for the mega-star Brad Pitt".

Directed by Marc Forster (QUANTUM OF SOLACE 2008, 7/10; STRANGER THAN FICTION 2006, 7/10; STAY 2005, 8/10; FINDING NEVERLAND 2004, 7/10; MONSTER'S BALL 2001, 7/10), who is to some extent oscillating between a major company's hack and an accomplished auteur in the indiewood. WORLD WAR Z craftily grafts mind-blowing visual feasts onto an apocalyptic milieu with rapid-running zombies infected by unknown virus, and keep contaminating the residual humankind. The backstory sounds familiar but film constructs an alternative coda, not the hackneyed one-man-saves-the-world heroism, instead, it offers a more plausible expedient to both avoid the callow overkill and underscore the future with a bleaker hope for the story to continue.

The film never stray from a standard zombiefest routine, but the execution is commendable, an indeed white-knuckle experience from A to Z, the process of this prerogative family's running away from a zombie-invading Philadelphia has been handled even-handedly, although Pitt's wife and daughters would only be the burden for his further mission.

Bounding from South Korea to Jerusalem, then a considerably smaller-scaled finale inside a secular lab in Scotland, the film brings us a gripping journey but there is no superhero to save mankind.

In the South Korea chapter, an unexpected self-shooting accident happens out of the left field, in view of the executor's seemingly essential role as the last straw to stop this mess. This is a wonderful surprise I don't mind watching more on screens nowadays. Moreover, the treatment of silence is another feat creatively applied here, pretty contrasts to the common hubbub in the action pack, but as a corollary, there will be an inconvenient silence-breaker thanks to the unwitting wife's timely call, otherwise, the act is too smooth and casualties can never be spared in this case (farewell, James Badge Dale).

However, the pinnacle no doubt should attribute to the raiding of City of David, excellent airborne shots render viewers a stately sacredness to witness the havoc, a sarcastic indication of a rabble of Muslims hymning cheerfully would insanely precipitate zombies to rally outside the bulwarks and eventually break into the city thanks to their umpteen quantities, which is a tad offensive but from the prospect of a non-believer, the irony is a bonanza since we are in desperation for some gallows humor under the circumstances.

Most dissenters would argue the reshoot of the final act (an original plan includes a massive combat sets in Moscow) is a letdown simply because it is not epic enough to culminate the prescribed "the bigger the better" adrenaline drive, nevertheless, this thriftier approach options a no-gut-no-glory scheme which turns out to be a fairly conducted indoor thriller, and one can even laugh about the ostentatious plugging of the beverage company during the revelational discovery. The cast is inherently viable, Pitt underplays his charisma to be more approachable, it is rather comforting to see Enos clench a major film role and she could have been a better fighter than her screen hubby.

In a nutshell, WORLD WAR Z is an entertaining popcorn fare, and doesn't try to patronize and outsmart its audience and showboats its CGI stunts to offer a bombarding sense of instantaneous grandiosity, which ultimately will fall bland in aftertaste. This alone can make most tentpoles pale in comparison!

The Battle of Algiers (La Battaglia di Algeri)

Algerian Government subsidized and hired Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo to shoot a film to recount the bloody clash between FLN (Algerian National Liberation Front) and French colonial only few years after its independence (1962). The film was not only won GOLDEN LION in Venice in 1966 and an Academy Awards nomination for BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM in 1967 but also was nominated for BEST DIRECTOR and SCREENPLAY in 1969 for a rare second round.

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS impresses its viewers with a haunting collection of close-up portraits of various people (both French and Algerian) under a soul-searching orchestration emphasized by stark chiaroscuro, it was years after Italian Neo-Realism, but the non-professional cast (the only pro is a wiry and bulged-eyed Jean Martin, who commands a stance of military mettle perfectly) and locale-revamping contributes a great amount of authenticity in the final work. There are plenty of overlooking angles with extensive depth of focus to examine and the city and enlighten one's appreciation, plus there are fleeting montages of torture under interrogation are disturbing but can potently generates a sense of boldness to show audience the cruelty in reality. However the most indelible ones are the waiting-for-the-bombs-to-explode experiences, with camera panning over innocent white victims-to-be unwittingly relish their last moment of hedonism, utterly guarantee a surge of compassion out of shock value terms.

Therefore, the film should also be extolled by its unbiased perspective in telling its stories from both parts, dispassionately channels viewers to witness the vindictive constitution lying underneath common humanity and the aimless and reproachable tit-for-tat acts ensuring. There are radical debates as regards the essence of revolution, a much more penetrating motto is revolution doesn't mean war and terrorism is not a means to win a revolution, which should be indoctrinated all over the world, especially to those tinderboxes where religious and political threats are pervading rampantly at present.

Showing no partiality to either sides is not an easy move since the production was backed and green-lit by one of the government, thus the film is a genuine gem in retaining the integrity and fabricating a gripping panorama of a chain of bloodshed and baring its true color under the stark daylight.

The Grandmaster

As film buffs are all acclimatized with the fact that every Kar Wai Wong's project has to endure an excruciatingly procrastinated process of filming and editing since IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000, 9/10), an almost six-year gap between THE GRANDMASTER and his first misfired Hollywood foray MY BLUEBERRY NIGHT (2007, 8/10) does manifest Wong's perverse assiduity and forbearance on his own artifact, apart from the sporadic but stretching-out shooting spells, Wong is also universally distinguished for other idiosyncrasies such as script-less improvisations for his cast, the stylish oriental aesthetics dramatized by the over-sentimental score, larger-than-life characters uttering aphorisms with philosophic undertones and last but not the least, the cinematography brimful of vim and vigor (on this occasion, Philippe Le Sourd is the new DP).

I've been consistently vouching for Wong simply because he is my favorite Hong Kong director, albeit his perceptible slump of his career orbit in the noughties, even his less-successful esoteric saga-tale 2046 (2004, 9/10) has won me over without a hitch. THE GRANDMASTER reunites Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang as rivals-cum-mutual-attracted-contemporaries Kung Fu masters Ip Man and Gong Er, spanning over 50 years in the tumultuous southern China from the beginning of 20th Century, despite of its 130 minutes length (I watched the Chinese theatrical version), the film somewhat stymies its audiences from getting a comprehensive grip on Ip Man, the nominal protagonist, instead, it leans heavily on the plot of Gong Er's obstinate revenge for her father's demise, maybe Chinese viewers have already fed up with a plethora of Ip Man on screen (notably Donnie Yen's Ip Man series), so this approach lends Ziyi Zhang a rare platform to outshine Tony Leung in rendering a meatier portraiture of a woman's fortitude and pluck in the male-dominant Kung Fu métier.

The dazzling action sequences are scattered wantonly among Wong's slow-paced, micro-distant frames zero in his players' amber countenances, the opening fight manages to achieve an ultra clarity of splashing raindrops in the Stygian night, and the subsequent ones are all meticulously shot with slow-motion interactions and two thumbs up for all the actors, name-checking Tong Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Max Zhang and Chen Chang for their strenuous endeavor in their martial arts training.

While Japanese composer Shigeru Umebayashi continues his collaboration with Wong,
Stefano Lentini's adaption of soprano piece "Stabat Mater" imprints on one's mind profoundly in this otherwise over-scored Kung Fu spectacle. My first viewing may fall short below my much-hyped anticipation, the disjointed narrative (most obtrusively is the largely-subtracted subplot of Chen Chang's Yi Xian Tian) and underdevelopment of Ip Man's own storyline cast a shadow in Wong's latest offering, one might compulsively wonder who is the real grandmaster here, the taciturnly suave Ip Man or the intrepidly determined Gong Er?


Watched this Blomkamp's sophomore feature film in theater, to some extent I was underwhelmed by his universally-acclaimed debut DISTRICT 9 (2009, 7/10), it seems that his novelistic intention overrides his implementation, notably his screenplay (this time he is the sole writer for ELYSIUM), the premise is always rosy and aspiring, but in the Sci-Fi territory, if the writer cannot justify the surrealistic world he creates with a certain holistic perspective to cover obtrusive plot-holes which are unavoidable byproducts out of the limitation of one's imagination, very likely bathos will be the consequence.

In ELYSIUM, setting in 2154, Blomkamp inherits his visual motifs from DISTRICT 9 (the skeletal robot resembles an agiler Prawn) and enlarges the cosmic extravaganza by erecting a pristine man-made extraterrestrial homeland for upscale class meanwhile the seething dystopian of a scuzzy and overpopulated earth is an upgraded version of the refugee camp for The Prawns in Johannesburg. Howsoever the film's box office prospect (a tepid response from the critics and its North American income is also disheartening, $82,877,000 so far), it is a bold decision for the production company to invest and purvey a wunderkind's second film with a costly budget (reported $115,000,000) for an original Sci-Fi actioner.

Accumulating an almost 4-times funds than DISTRICT 9, Blomkamp could summon Hollywood top-tier names to guarantee more tickets-buyers which backfires, however his South African kindred spirit Sharlto Copley continues undertaking a chief role as the brutal outcast ex-agent, whose ambition pans out to be even more vicious than the ostensible villain, the combo of Damon and Foster is a whimsical but diverting one, but due to the ill-fated procession of the story, they don't even share any scenes together, Damon is always a good Samaritan without memorable charisma to single himself out and Foster caricatures herself to a routine militarist with bizarre accent.

All the earthbound stratum is comprised of Latinos (save Damon here), Moura, Braga and Luna is certified foil around Damon's amenable hero, contrasts sheer with the high-and-mighty White race in Elysium, robot-like but dons haute couture, speaks French and enjoys a disease-free technology. The omnipotent machine stands out as the sole excuse for earthlings to go to Elysium (actually only for those who are sick or disabled), since the lucky immigrants who stow away from earth to there (19 minutes by aircrafts, a rather facile maneuver) will all be effortlessly captured and repatriated back to the globe, so why they make a fuss over risking their lives in an ill-fated journey? Also the entire re-programming and rebooting scheme is a heedless product of a wholesome mind and cursorily conducted for the sake of being assimilated as any of its same kind. Unfortunately there are many equivocal set pieces like this pervading the entire film which restrains its potential to be a bona fide awe-inspiring eye-opener.

But on the other hand, imagination is contingent on the real world where germinates all the possible routes to extend and maximize our capacity of creation, the world in ELYSIUM could be our worst nightmare comes true because it touches on the basis of our undying prejudices on individuality and the callousness and irrationality looming over the inexorable gap between the wealthy and poor, as I mentioned in my review of DISTRICT 9, Blomkamp will always be on my radar as the new blood in the massive assembly line, time is all he needs to hone up his expertise and mostly essentially is to be on the lookout for a distinctive screenplay, he will fabricate his own CHILDREN OF MEN (2006, 9/10) one day.

The Hustler
The Hustler(1961)

For a non-billiards-player, one might cavil this monochromatic classic seems to be a shade monotonous for the first half an hour of the running time, although one will surely be stunned by Newman and Gleason's pool table panache, but thanks to its confined layout and dooming denouement, a game predestined to lose for Newman with a prolonged battle against sleepiness and spiked by alcohol intake, all too familiar and stale to prompt a taut vibe. However, things are getting better, when Sarah (Laurie) being introduced to this male-crammed coterie, she lights up the screen instantly, a damaged cripple longing for a secure relationship, her chimera would eventually be shattered into pieces to cement her lover Eddie's (Newman) "character" which is prerequisite for him to be the top pick among the bunch. Laurie's intuitively destructive performance enables the film to be more affecting than the usual offerings where female-roles are decorative and neglectful.

Newman also stretches out in his best form to deliver the gamut of emotions through the narrative arc, deadly charming as he is, Eddie is a far cry being a complete likable fellow as he appears to be, even finally he beats Minnesota Fats (Gleason) and valiantly defies and censures Bert's (Scott) greed and vileness, he still bears a certain degree of responsibility to the tragedy occurred before, in the end, he is more a repentant sinner than a victorious hero. Each of the four actors (Newman, Laurie, Gleason and Scott) grabbed an Oscar nomination for his or her work, both competing in the supporting actor category, retrospectively speaking, Scott's flagrant menace isn't a too taxing requirement out of his comfortable zone, while Gleason's reserved taciturnity implies much more chewy undertones than he purports to be, which positively suggests his background story would spin another gripping and morally-ambiguous tale easily. Personally I give the edge to Gleason.

Other than a sterling cluster of awards-worthy performances, THE HUSTLER is elegantly conducted by Robert Rossen, a gone-too-soon figure in Hollywood manufacture (passed away at the age of 57 in 1966), conscientiously teases out the best of his cast under a low-key production paddings and represents us a visceral parable on human nature's weakness.

P.S. The next step for me to dig into Newman's oeuvre is the unofficial sequel THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986), a Scorsese's production belatedly gave Newman a golden statue which he should have won decades ago.

Star Trek Into Darkness

I'm not a trekkie, and my first Star Trek film is the reboot STAR TREK (2009, 7/10), as a momentous pioneer to boost a whole new generation to embrace a revamped Sci-Fi franchise, it did a decent job thanks to J.J. Abrams' cachet in the category and the recurring hyped-up references from the soap sensation THE BIG BANG THEORY.

4 years later, the second installment finally arrives as a leviathan summer blockbuster as its predecessor, the Enterprise's new intergalactic adventure takes off with the entire crew members back under the J.J. Abrams' helm, this time holding the villain name tag is the red-hot Benedict Cumberbatch, sports a dashing windbreaker, frowns while practices his merciless slaughter, hardly a novel creation, but he does invigorate the tension by delivering his spiteful lines with Bardic cadence.

Once again, the same bad-guy-(willingly)-being-caught-in-the-middle-of-the-film trope bears the importance as a game-changing twist, then after a spate of nifty but anticipated internal hazards and warp chase, the final battle returns to earth for a bland point-blank hand-to-hand combat.

Most obtrusively, Kirk and Spock's bromance has been handily elevated into another Platonic level, the near-death confession scenes overtly suggests it will exist as an unerring theme in the whole running, it is embarrassing to see the almost zero chemistry between Spock and Uhura, even for a dispassionate Vulcan, the innuendo is quite palpable, only Kirk can melt Spock's cold-hearted veneer and illicit his human part of being dramatic, impulsive and vengeful. Sidekicks are the same old story, Simon Pegg is entrusted to assume as the saviors at least twice, apart from his usual levity to induce laughters. Newcomer Alice Eve offers a gratuitous bikini scene in the wink of an eye, which awkwardly belies the rashness to cater to the film's core ticket-or-DVD-buyers (geeky nerds mostly), which is a clumsy and paltry strategy.

The visual effect has its glorious achievement in some section, but there is a dearth of awe-inspiring imagination to outdo the ruck of Hollywood tentpoles. Much appreciation should be impute to the polished editing and narrative pace, the film seldom slackens to a dull moment for viewers to think twice about its logical practicality of the deeds involved. If it is not entirely appealing to audiences from all strata, at the minimum, trekkies will not cold-shoulder it and most likely, it is a qualified sequel to spur the vitality for another Star Trek binge in the near future. But an apprehensive concern is that since J.J. Abrams has embarked on to reinstate the more preeminent STAR WARS brand, I sincerely hope a new director will bring a paradigm shift for its third venture, it should not perpetually be overshadowed as a spin-off or a cheaper version of the former (at least the characters are more interesting and dynamic), what's more, it is anything but cheap gauging by its production budget, it has everything to challenge the elephant in the room now!

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Another Woody Allen delight, a diptych of two moral conundrums, Laudau, a well-off ophthalmologist who ultimately gets away with the murder of his badgering mistress (Huston), meanwhile a frustrated documentary filmmaker (Allen) flunks to win his love interest (Farrow) over a pretentious showbiz magnate (Alda).

For Laudau's story, one can easily sniff out the comparability of Allen's later London-based MATCH POINT (2005, 7/10), the other women are merely dispensable in favor of wealth, social status and ostensibly stable matrimony. In this film, its main concern is the struggle within, the general moral conscience Vs. the guilt or the sin, and out of left field, it is the latter eventually prevails, with the trappings of a comfortable life, the murder becomes a petty snippet in his memory and time can put everything back into an equilibrium, it is beyond any religion's absolution. Landau delivers one of his best performances in his lengthy career, an outright leading role (again, shamefully the category fraud push him into supporting group in the Oscar race), a hypocrite sleekly justifies his selfish and heinous behaviors with superfluous paddings, a despicable person so full of life with mocking caricature and a tint of self-reflection, everyone has his or her own unsurmountable hurdle in reality, luckily the preponderance is able to rein the yardstick. Anjelica Huston breaks her lofty stereotype, to overplay an unreasonable mistress who is too desperate to shore up her wanting sense of security, as vexing and halfwitted as she is, her denouement is too much a punishment.

As for Allen's romantic entwinement with Farrow and his doomed marriage, it brims with casual wisecracks and addicted cinema-goings, but the scene-stealer is Alda, whose character is blatantly based on the late writer Larry Gelbart, utters bon mots like, comedy is tragedy plus time; or if it bends, it's funny, if it breaks, it isn't. He is snobbish and lewd to everyone's eyes, yet he walks off with Allen's soul mate. Woody Allen is rehashing the same old self, and Mia Farrow refrains herself as an out-of-his-league dame, who speaks highly about her unrealized ambition in order to reject a man trapped in a dead wedlock, yet subservient to the mogul's courtship, it all boils down to the point of a woman's self-deceptive blindness towards material needs, with a collateral damage to her unsuccessful suitor. So in both stories, the female characters are less glamorous and adorable here, not to mention Allen's sister's icky sex encounter in the bedroom.

The film is mostly brisk under the accompany of a jazzy score, and its debate on moral structure is a cogent one and could be a reference to all the contemporary marital or relationship mishaps, even the religious mumble-jumble has an epiphany on those non-believers.

Stories We Tell

It is rather unusual for a director to shoot a documentary which pivots on her private family life, being the one behind the camera to interview others, her side of story mostly remains elusive, actress-turned-director Sarah Polley's latest acclaimed documentary about the startling discovery of her biological father is a pure revelation and a wondrous crowd-pleaser.

Starts with family members recall her late mother Diane Polley (who passed away from cancer in 1990), an actress, a twice-married woman (with 5 offspring), a freewheeling soul lives everyday to its fullest. The narrative takes a midstream swerve when a secret is slowly to be debunked, after Diane's death, Sarah and her siblings would find out her liaison with a man who would be Sarah's biological father when she was in Montreal for a short spell to act in a play. There is a small twist of finding her father, but it is not the keynote of Sarah's film, like she mentions in the film, what intrigues her the most is the way stories are being told, and how can one get the truth when the only one who is able to reveal what is the absolute truth is long gone? So Sarah glean information and trivia from participants, friends, onlookers and gossipers, the most poignant one is from her father Michael Polley, whose instant response is affecting and genuine, the family bond surmounts bloodline lineage, which is an important criterion elevates human beings as a supreme specie on the earth.

Interposing the interviews with real-life footages and re-enactment of the past story gives the film a distinctive shade of perusing an old photo book or watching a vintage super-8 video playing out. Every family has its own snags and their complications, what makes the Polleys' so compelling is save the provocative scandal aside, the film actually anatomizes deeper into the source material and transpires itself to a reflective reminder of how one's life could only be experienced once and any kind of recount is futile, as long as it involves more than 1 person, there is always a murky territory where certain feelings are unfathomable since only myself knows exactly how I feel and what has happened to me, not even soul-mates would have that power.

The film is a new entry into my Top 10 films of 2012, and the best documentary feature of 2012 so far, Sarah Polley doubtlessly is courageous and tactful, a firm spearhead on behalf of female counterpart in the male-skewing director sector.

A Woman Under the Influence

Fresh to Cassavetes' canon, A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE is tiresome and exhausting for my first-time viewing, throughout the entire running time (155 minutes), we watch a series of intense clashes between Mabel (Gena Rowlands) and Nick (Peter Falk), sometimes catalyzed by their family members or close friends, and the repercussions includes Mabel exacerbates her mental disability and the collateral damage to their 3 young children.

Using intimate and irregular camerawork to demonstrate a fly-on-the-wall authenticity opens a maximum door for thespians to show off their superlative working-class liberation of feelings and emotion, Gena Rowlands, immerses into her character with optimum dexterity, from her quirks of sputtering and word-mouthing, the fervid and persistent advocacy of opera aria to the time-bomb of her squeamish frailty, we never know when will she explode, whilst time is ticking and the wait is taxing both for the players and the spectators. She also shines in her warmer facet during the heartwarming episodes with her kids. Mabel is a dream role any actress would be ever craving for, Rowlands is the performer nonpareil for her concentrated and committed dedication of embodiment without falling into the pitfall of borderline OTT.

Falk, a flawless pick for an ordinary blue-collar, bedeviled by his wife's unhinged nature and stumped by the futile and consuming communication, improperly catches the worst moment to throw a surprise party for Mabel, his quandary could be easier to be related by the audiences, besides, his trademark out-of-focus eyes betray his frustration and it is certainly the situation is at his wits' end.

This tiny budgeted film is a family workshop, kinfolks and friends constitutes the cast, e.g. both Cassavete's mother Katherine and Rowlands' mother Lady plays the in-laws in the film. Overall the film is a challenging project which unflinchingly debunks the underbelly of the marital bond, "till death us do apart" is so harrowing to listen under this circumstance. During the conjugal tug-of-war, Cassavetes pluckily interposes their children into the game, at the eleventh hour, it is the kids' relentless endeavor thaws the edginess induced by the heavy volley of laborious squabbles.

Finally I must bellyache about the befuddling timeline, when Mabel brings a stranger to her house at night, it is the next morning Nick and his workmates come back from working, they have an unpleasant midday dinner, then it is the morning after Mabel's mother brings the children to home before school, right? Then how come later Nick's mother accusing Mabel for adultery at "last night"? Help me out here, it does bugs me, otherwise it is an indeed unique film of its own kind, although it doesn't gratify my satisfaction thanks to the frivolous and dreary altercations, I am always coveting for a bit more from the story plainly extracted from the lifelike experience, other than accentuates the tedious and irksome sensory overkill, it would be nicer if a sensible approach could lead us to a palliative nostrum to set our cerebral phase back to a normal state.

Another Country

Adapted from Julian Mitchell's eponymous play, ANOTHER COUNTRY is a biographic recount of Guy Burgess' repressive campus days, which foreshadows his later defection to Russia as a spy.

Set in 1930s, in an all-male British public school, Guy (Everett) is a homosexual student with a casual and elegant bearing, his best friend is a heterosexual communist Tommy (Firth), both spurn the stiff hierarchy system of the school, from junior to prefect until the gods, the oppressive atmosphere is stifling. Triggered by a newly suicide accident owing to homosexual action, the management tier restricts any activity likewise. Guy finds himself more and more befuddled about his future and a cute peer James (Elwes) has come into his life, whom he is instantly besotted with. But with their disruptive nature, both Guy and Tommy have to pay their prices and end up as expendable pawns in the school's power struggle.

The film runs within a neat 90-minutes, starts with a writer interviews Guy in Moscow in 1980s (in my opinion it would be much better to hire a real aging actor for the role instead of using the horrible make-up on Everett), immediately the film flashbacks to Guy's youth, carefully limns how the formulaic and orthodox school life slowly erodes his belief and viewpoint of the world, but not his sexuality. Both Rupert Everett and Colin Firth are in their early twenties and their untainted countenances could only arouse a nostalgic reminiscence which luckily doesn't overshadow their excellent performances here, especially Firth, an idealistic socialist, a devoted friend, the two-hander between him and Everett gains lots of favorable impressions for the film while Elwes and Everett's touchy-feely moments looks a shade phony and effete.

Nevertheless, I give an encourage 8 out 10 for this film, director Marek Kanievska's debut, it has a killing score, mellifluous and nerve-soothing, the script is potent and caustic in supporting the film's narrative arc with a great ensemble and my sweet spot is the period backdrop, whose canon and moral leverage are stinkingly degenerate, but all its trappings are shining with their own allure to generations after and this film is a lucky beneficiary as well.

Ji Zhan (Unbeatable)

Watch this latest MMA action film in theater, Hong Kong director Dante Lam has a sturdy reputation in his action-packed thrillers in recent years (THE VIRAL FACTOR 2012, THE STOOL PIGEON 2010, BEAST STALKER 2008), this time around, he opts for another kind of action, the point-blank MMA fighting, summons a pan-Chinese cast (Cheung, On and Keung are from Hong Kong, Peng, Kao and Liu are from Taiwan, Mei, Li and Wang are from mainland China while youngster Lee is from Malaysia), it also imposes a daunting challenge for two leads Nick Cheung and Eddie Peng, especially for Cheung, at the age of 47 he works extremely hard to gain a brawny figure to play the washed-out former boxing champion.

There aren't a glut of hot-blooded hand-to-hand combats (4 is the exact time), instead Lam and his screen writer team manage to consolidate the context of these two fighters' characteristic backdrop stories and furthermore justify their own causes to fight, Peng is to prove himself in front of his life-beaten and alcohol-abusing father and Cheung is to reinitiate his own potentiality and farewell to his squandered youth. Those are the perpetual themes of sport films, they are soul-inspiring and heart-touching at their best, but over-elaborated and shortchanged for its pragmatism at their worst. Other than the white-knuckle combats in the cage, which has been recorded faithfully with swift and precise camerawork to achieve the sensational verisimilitude (and very impressive pre-fighting training sequences). The entanglement between Cheung and a pair of mother-daughter (Mei, a single mother who is mentally unstable due to a past trauma and Lee, her premature daughter whose Pollyannaish nature under an impoverished situation does strike a chord to any soul with a tender spot) occupies the majority of the narrative, the function of main female characters in the male-driven genre always recedes to either a frail victim (Mei) or a redeeming touch of guilelessness (Lee), the shackles need to be innovated, yet it is a long way ahead.

UNBEATABLE is a strong contender in next year's Hong Kong Film Awards (along with Johnnie To's BLIND DETECTIVE 2013, 7/10), they represent the caliber of the technique peak and the liberation of telling a story without pampering audiences' ostensible reactions from an art form's cheap face value, which is far more self-aware and less money-seeking than most of the players in the over-bloating Chinese film market nowadays.


Robert Altman's insightful dissection about Nashville, the cradle of American country music, astutely captures the zeitgeist of 1970s and deploys a kaleidoscope of motley characters.

A red hot country superstar (Blakley) who is plagued by her feeble health condition and the straining relationship with her agent-husband (Garfield), who has to cater to another country diva (Black) who comes to supplant his ailing wife for a public concert; a pompous and loudmouth BBC journalist (Chaplin) who comes to shoot a documentary about Nashville; an uprising folk trio TOM, MARY & BILL (Carradine, Raines, Nicholls) with their chauffeur (Arkin) while Tom is the sleaze-bag philanderer and the married Mary and Bill undergo some connubial crisis; A housewife and gospel singer (Tomlin) whose husband (Beatty) is an agent who tenaciously introduces a politician lobbyist (Murphy) to the music moguls in order to get some big names to sing publicly for the presidential candidate and his main target is a honorific but over-the-hill country star (Gibson) with an astringent wife (Baxley) and an unworldly son (Peel), and fellow musicians (Brown, for example) as well

There is also a glut of ordinary people, two young singers-wanna-be, one is a runaway wife (Harris) seeking for an opportunity to sing in front of a large audience, another is a southern beauty (Welles) who optionally chooses to ignore her unmusical voice and insists on carrying her pipe dream at all hazards (a striptease in a local bar is just the beginning for the poor dim gal) albeit the eloquent persuasion from her friend (DoQui); two young lad, one is a reticent Pfd. soldier (Scott) who is obsessed with Blakley, the other one is a self-claimed musician (Hayward) totes his guitar box where conceals a dangerous weapon will later trigger the awesome finale; the last pair is a local old man (Wynn) and his vampy niece (Duvall), who flirts with every young man she meets including a weirdo-looking tricycle rider (Goldblum), never care too much about her dying auntie in the hospital.

To engineer and channel a huge cast like this is Altman's strongest suit, the assemblage of hustle and bustle inducts audiences into a multivalent prism which bravely refracts an ideological society status, with whimsical banters abound and of course the music renditions. Despite that I have no honky-tonk root and my upbringing is immune to the genre, and from a standpoint of now, its traditional sense of worth oozing from the songs is grating and behind the times, the live-performances never cease to purvey vim and vigor to be appreciated. Notably from Blakley and Black, not to mention Carradine's Oscar enthroned folksy I'M EASY, magnificently stipulates the high bar of music's sex appeal.

Performance wise, Oscar-nominated Blakley is also in the top-tier, whose sensitivity is so authentic and whose aftermath could not be more shocking (god bless Loretta Lynn); Tomlin (owns her Oscar nomination simply by her gaze towards Carradine during his solo show), Chaplin (so obnoxious is the character but she is superb in presenting her into a wacky laughing-stock) and Wynn (savings the gratuitous nude scene, she manages to squeeze a veritable sense of mettle out of her levity and shallowness) are all great in their respective terrains; Gibson and Garfield are my picks for male counterpart, but it is indeed a female's spectacle.

I cannot say it is my favorite Altman's work (GOSFORD PARK 2001, 9/10 still holds the slot), but no doubt it is a monumental achievement at its time and in Altman's career path, the cogent political messages are being propagated from stem to stern, obviously it has a broader insinuation which even today one can hardly pass over.

Sullivan's Travels

Two men grappling on the top of a scudding train and both wind up falling into a choppy river, after that rolls out "THE END", which is the beginning of this film, directed and written by Preston Sturges, our protagonist is a booming young director Sullivan (McCrea), the said clip he shows is his latest film which intends to dig into the bleak reality instead of make another fluff. So unsurprisingly, the investors and producers will not buy it, then Sullivan decides to experience all the "troubles" which unfortunately elude him since clearly his life is too pricey to provide him with the adversity of the huddled mass.

Here is the compromising plan, he puts on an act as a poor guy with only 10 cents in the pocket, and the film studio sends an 8-men crew to (not so stealthily) follow him and records his adventure, which will be compiled as a front-page story for the media and publicity, a great mutual benefit trickery only it sounds a tad highfalutin, paraphrasing a sentence from the film "People always like what they don't know anything about it", Sullivan is a lucky bastard born with a golden spoon in his mouth! Anyway, there he goes, it starts as a slapstick comedy, when he meets the girl (a 19-year-old Lake), who fails to have a crack into Hollywood, the film morphs into a romantic screwball, Lake is a fabulous stunner, and much to my surprise, her diminutive figure does stand for a little boy in her tramp outfit alongside a husky McCrea, and together they showcase some heavy scored silent montages of their improvised life with tramps, an apparent tribute to Chaplin.

Then the film veers its trail with a mood-changing malevolence, the do-gooder has to learn a lesson for his own naivety towards the lower stratum's spite, after the courtroom hubbub with a hazy and distorted images, Sullivan has to undergo a diabolic spell in a prison camp where he will finally find what people really want to see and it is sardonically at a black people's church.

During the viewing, there was an impulse pushing me to want to love this film more, but eventually it failed, the story is an oversimplified product of one's wacky imagination, the overall tone never cease to patronize the poor mass, the ending is too gratuitous to feel the empathy, a 7/10 is out of my respect to Sturges' cachet, anyway it is an taxing tale to spin, even for Sturges.

The Spirit of the Beehive (El Espíritu de la colmena)

The melodious flute score is an overture to this phenomenally shot film (much owes to the cinematographer Luis Cuadrado, who went blind during the shooting and would committed suicide in 1980) with profound imagery of Spain under the circumstances of Francisco Franco's ebbing ruling regime.

Running against a succinct 95 minutes, the film introduces us a rural village in 1940s, after watching the horror-classic FRANKENSTEIN (1931), a seven-year-old girl Ana inexplicably gets possessed with the spirit of the monster in the film, slowly, her elder sister Isabel, and their parents, all realize their live will eternally changed by the unstoppable pace which their country is also experiencing.

The diegetic curve doesn't limn an overbearing quantity of hubbub to foreground the family-related crisis, instead, it quietly and singularly takes its time to observe every tiny fluctuation of its executors' mind of state, subtle and poetic, under the background of oil-painting-alike texture and sometimes tender amber aura, the magical influence of the film's idyllic melancholia and psychological allusions can take your breath away if you can immerse yourself into the mise en scène.

Ana Torrent (3 years before her another gripping child performance RAISE RAVENS 1976, 9/10) is the attention-grabber among the cast, such a consuming delivery of a girl's convoluted mind orbit around her daily encounters under the minimal and drab milieu, also emotionally tangible is the sibling relationship between her and Isabel, more obliquely but equally palpable hinted is the insular stalemate of the communication with and between their parents, the whole state of the family sets off a torpor which is both depressing and unbearable.

Ana is looking for her own monster to whom she can relate her feelings, what would be more thrilling and ironical than befriending some creature with a kind heart under the protection of a spine-chilling outfit, no matter it is a ghost or a spirit, the wounded fugitive is her salvation, but is suffocated by the cruel reality, and also creates a crevice between her and her father, the delusional imagination triggered by the poisonous mushroom is the last resort and we never know if there is a cure for her.

Victor Erice's own career path is quite tortuous, over 40 years or so, the fact that only 3 feature films are made is a crystal clear testimony of an auteur's abiding friction with the investors, comfortingly at least this film doesn't fail him and will always be an incentive for aficionados to be indebted for his prowess and acknowledge his uncredited endeavor.


1982 is such a competitive year for actresses, most prominently is Meryl Streep's critics-consensus "the all-time best female performance" and Oscar-crowning SOPHIE'S CHOICE (1982), which shamefully I haven't watched yet. Thus unfairly other contenders didn't stand any chance to beat her for that, but I never doubt that it was a nip-and-tuck between Streep and Lange in her tour-de-force sensation FRANCES.

Frances Farmer is hardly a household name among film boffins, she was a shooting star in the Tinseltown, whose defiant nature is destined for hemming herself as a fair game to the studio persecution, and the inhuman therapeutic treatments she receives in the mental hospitals are fierce indictment of our society's callous depersonalization under the aegis of medical remedy, although whether the lobotomy operation was executed still lacks of conviction.

Farmer exhibits her rebelliousness from the very start with her religion-defying speech "god was gone" when she was simply a high-schooler, a fearless doll under the high-handedness of her control freak mother (Stanley), Lange's rendition is begging description, an almost 30 years age-range and 140-minutes running time thoroughly proffers her an once-in-a-lifetime stretch to embody herself into this anguished persona, she minutely delineates how the life-force has been mercilessly ripped off her inch by inch and a belated and vehement face-off with her mother is the most theatrical moment and is the apotheosis of a heart-wrenching vicariousness, bravo to both Lange and Stanley!

Henry York (Shepard), a fictional character as the only man who truly understands Farmer and loves her unconditionally is the narrator, this concoction is a poetic license to add some solace in Farmer's wretched life and a considerable move for its audiences' sake, but meanwhile it barely serves a slush albeit Shepard and Lange work wonder together, the make-believe default also makes no room to expound why those two lovers could not be together, an over-romanticized tone may counteract the despondency of the film but it is also an untimely reminder of how close itself could be as brave as its leading lady Jessica Lange!

Diabolique (Les Diaboliques)

This is a superb thriller, a holistic cliff-hanger directed by H.G. Clouzot, adapted from Bioleau and Narcejac's novel (who later would purvey VERTIGO 1958, 8/10 for Hitchcock to make amends for his vain attempt to acquire LES DIABOLIQUES). Shot in monochrome, the film excels in keeping audiences engaging in the crafty conspiracy of a demure wife colludes with her husband's mistress to murder her horrendous husband, taking almost half of the screen-time to character-building and meticulous plotting, their plan progresses pretty well until an unexpected twist swerves the film into a psychological horror torment, at the end of the day another scam has been uncovered and the final revelation triumphantly wins its trophy for its shock value.

The film piques our interest with a peculiar ménage a trois situation, a wife-cum-mistress (Ms. Clouzot and Signoret) alliance plots a punctilious scheme to kill the husband (Meurisse), Clouzot confidently takes a meandering pace at first, set in a rural all-male boarding school, Meurisse is the ill-tempered principle and both Ms. Clouzot and Signoret are the teachers, but a significant but easily overlooked minutia is that it is Ms. Clouzot who brings about the fortune to the school. After steadily details the conflict among the protagonists and cunningly accentuates the two female leads' disparate personality, Ms. Clouzot is a well-heeled, wan, indecisive woman, the victim of mental abuse, hemmed in a dead-water marriage with a traditional mind which means she cannot risk a scandalous divorce, by comparison Signoret is a tough, adamant, subversive doer, the recipient of domestic abuse but doesn't reconcile to the status quo. So the weird affinity of the two may suggest something more radical than the surface, but the film doesn't dare to provoke the controversy (or for the sake of the surprising finale).

Clouzot knowingly manufactures several minor hitches to the execution of the murder, the grumpy tenants living upstairs, the drunken soldier-hitchhiker and the bathroom light in the middle of the night, each juices up the tension moderately and finally, when it seems their plan has been conducted successfully, the film inaugurates its great conjuring, starts with the missing corpse, to the involvement of a senior private detective (Vanel) until the disintegration of the two convicts and the truth gradually comes into light, a textbook thriller-horror segment which would inspire many emulators, it is an utterly heart-in-the-throat experience, Ms. Clouzot is ineffably remarkable in the guilty-haunting, soul-crunching trauma of scare, one of the most impressive death scene I've even seen! Signoret and Meurisse both nail their roles with sharp precision.

LES DIABOLIQUES is a masterful suspense-establishing film and H.G. Clouzot is a no lesser achiever than Mr. Hitchcock if there is any justice in the world!

Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim(2013)

Del Toro's latest tentpole, watched in 3D format on IMAX screen, a substantial SFX Jarger Vs. Kaiju monolith which makes TRANSFORMER franchise pale in comparison. But the feeble storyline and unimaginative character-building drags the film into a scrape of torpor. especially after the seasonal actioners' drumfire (after WHITE HOUSE DOWN 2013, 6/10 and FAST AND FURIOUS 6 2013. 6/10), PACIFIC RIM is the most costly one, and its red-hot accomplishment in the Chinese box office suggests a belated chance to break even its tepid reception in the North American domain, with its Japan opening this coming weekend, an approximate $400,000,000 worldwide turnover may green-light a sequel for its ardent followers.

The 3D effect surely doesn't improve at all thanks to the murky palette of the raining night combat and underwater location, under the 3D monopoly (even more absurd there are 4D version available in theaters) at least in China, we have no access to the plain 2D type, which rumor says its rendition is much better in an IMAX screen. Dedicated to Japanese Tokusatsu films, Del Toro and his crew's reconstruction and invention of genre is groundbreaking, an eye-opener with excellent technical scrupulousness, the bombarding sound effects are overwhelming as well as its awe-inspiring and heroic battle scenes.

There are some hiccups keep bugging me, an obvious one is that why on earth there is no conventional weaponry assistance engaging in the doomsday battle, not even as the cannon fodder; another one is the last moment sword stunt, saving the best for the last may not work here, it is only for practicability, but an ill-considered one. Hunnam doesn't possess enough charisma to carry on the film on his shoulder and his platonic relation with Kikuchi hasn't been dug deep enough to steal the limelight. Other actors are standard equipments, Elba is the commander whose background story desperately needs a prequel. Day is the comic relief and Perlman is the egomaniac laughing-stock.

Del Toro's Hollywood odyssey has been rougher than one had presumed, PACIFIC RIM is a qualified film in the sense of it is an updated product for the genre criterion (let's wait and see how GODZILLA will handle the challenge next year), but it doesn't live up to Del Toro's talent if one familiars with his earlier films, notably his homespun masterpiece PAN'S LABYRINTH (2006, 9/10), where mythology and reality have been miraculously criss-crossed and not only our eyes are being opened, our hearts are also being filled with passion and vibration.


My third Tarkovsky's film (after SOLARIS 1972, 8/10 and NOSTALGHIA 1983, 8/10), STALKER is a startling eye-opener, set in a sordid clanking land of rural Soviet Union, after the falling of a meteorite, an enigmatic area "The Zone" has emerged, inside there is a room can grant incomers' innermost wishes, but cordoned by the government with armies, only with the guidance of so called "stalkers", one can reach the room. So the expedition involves one stalker and his two clients, a writer and a professor, one begs for inspiration and the other conceals an ulterior motive.

As one can predict, the film is teeming with Tarkovsky's trademark static/panning long shots, mesmerizing and conjuring up a recondite sense of metaphysics, for example, a steady long shot of various items in the water finishes with the focus on a human hand, sometimes it's baffling, as viewers (as well as the two clients) have been warned numerous times by the stalker, the place is precarious, many a predecessor dies mysteriously in the zone, among a large chunk of the time Tarkovsky successfully maintains the stifling suspense to tally with the seedy locale, the movement is painstakingly strung out, so the audiences cannot shun the unknown danger but only succumb to a thorough wallow in the wasteland. Tarkovsky never resort to cheap horror to give vent to excitement or relief, instead, he utilizes a man-made natural surrounding to trap oneself in, and let our own inside demon out to divulge a sense of thrill and frisson.

I don't speak Russian, so it probably hinders my apprehension of the dialogue, only if the English interpretation could be better, nevertheless, STALKER seems bit chattier than Tarkovsky's other works, their debate ranges from the philosophy of human beings' psychological trials and tribulations, the sociopolitical radicalism to the awe and frustration towards the mystery and miracles plus the unselfishness of art, etc. I may not be able to fully cover all the implications from the first viewing, but one can not deny here the luxuriant imagery is louder than words at any rate.

The cast is also memorable, the monochrome close-ups endow each character with a pictorial impact of their own resolution, the friend-or-foe association motivates the storytelling and excellently penetrates the harmony of the trio thus overshoots viewers' expectation.

Myself find the supernatural elements have been fascinatingly deployed in this film, scattering into many inscrutable shots, sometimes only in a jiffy and most strikingly is the ending, with the daughter of the stalker, mind-controls still objects until one glass falls on the ground but the sound is drowned by the strident train running nearby, which ultimately veils the film with a stratum of mystique that qualifies Tarkovsky as one of the most unique and essential filmmaker of all time!

What Maisie Knew

Indie director duo McGehee & Siegel has harvested great word-of-mouth and critic appraise for their second feature THE DEEP END (2001, 8/10), although the consecutive spelling bee drama BEE SEASON (2005, 5/10) is a fiasco and after a low-key romance-drama UNCERTAINTY (2009), their fifth collaboration is WHAT MAISIE KNEW, a modern-day custody battle in NYC transposed from Henry James' 1887 novel of the same title.

Maisie is a beautiful schoolgirl, mom is a rock singer and dad is an art work broker, their bourgeois life has plummeted into chaos when her parents facing an ugly divorce, the contest for her custody introduces Maisie a stepmom and a stepdad, whom Maisie grows close with thanks to the regular negligence of her biological parents.

The film valiantly fixates its camera from Maisie's angle, she is the reticent victim of the aftermath caused by her parents' failure to co-exist under the same roof, through her ethereal princess adorableness, the film is ample with aesthetically stunning shots, NYC has never been so unworldly intimate and hauntingly dreamlike, all the more precious, McGehee and Siegel unflaggingly refuses to betray any speck of sentimentality and melancholia, as awful as the situations are, there is no tear-jerking awkwardness, instead, a less-disturbed recording of the hustle and bustle is capable of invoking much more inner ripple effects and self-reflection.

Onata Aprile as Maisie, has been elicited great onscreen glamour through her innocuous postures, she is no crybaby, no temper tantrum either, a dainty soul evolves far maturer than she should have. Moore and Coogan as the biological parents, are the negative examples of parenting, Moore renders a spot-on mimicry in her rockstar garments and delivers an overpowering rancor out of her character's unlovable carapace while Coogan, sheds his comic burden, is less flamboyant but more cunning than he appears.

Skarsgård and Vanderham, as the young surrogate caretakers of Maisie, the former downplays his masculinity and feels shortchanged as a toy-boy-bartender, the latter is such a boon to the film, Vanderham vibrantly offer her second fiddle role with great emotional ups-and-downs, as her film debut, she should on the list of young talent to watch.

A no-guts-no-glory slant on familial dysfunction on parenting, a moral tale to forewarn those adults who think they can, but are not wise enough to proffer a healthy environment for their children, who supplant devoted love with self-centered egoism and play the under-appreciated one to earn others' sympathy. What Maisie knew? She knows when adults are lying to her, she knows how to be the grateful to the kindhearted, she knows how to love her parents in spite of their respective imperfection, Maisie knows too much about the despicable world, but she is also a lucky girl, she has found something which is untainted and someone who will cherish her wholeheartedly. The film is an indie gem and attests McGehee and Siegel's faculty in film-making should not be overlooked.

The Women
The Women(1939)

The groundbreaking gimmick of this vintage George Cukor film is its female-inclusive cast, a bitch-fest orbits around the admiration of their off-screen male counterparts, it is a cornucopia of malicious gossips, cloying feminine bonds, fierce squabbles with vicious innuendoes, and culminates with a tit-for-tat machination to win back a man's heart.

My tone sounds disparaging, but the film is a hoot to watch, gathering 3 divas, several starlets and many old stagers (all main characters have their respective animal analogs indicate their dispositions before the film starts), Shearer is a worthy leading actress here, notwithstanding the fact that her character is a morally upright woman who may be too perfect to exemplify as a true-to-life impersonation, Shearer's sincerity and grace alone can effortlessly win over audiences' heart and against the grain the magnificence of her id outshines the alter ego on screen and retains the limelight.

Crawford is the anti-heroine, a manipulative home-wrecker owns every second during her presence, could be her stock-of-trade by hindsight, but how can one not relish the sparkling confrontations between her and Shearer when words are still able to kill. The last but not the least of the trinity is Russell, a snooty socialite falls into utter caricature, a loudmouth and busybody, oscillates between her chameleon-like affinities (either to Shearer or to Crawford), she might be the most dangerous creature among all the distaff.

Then among secondary tier, a drop-dead gorgeous Fontaine is the romantic dreamer, a reverential Boland is the undying love-pursuer, an elegant and witty Goddard is the tactful helper, then a worldly and sensible Watson is the mother who gives appropriate advice when it is needed, and a lovable and juvenile Weidler pulls through an empathetic daughter-mother rapport between her and Shearer.

A vivid dissection of vicissitudes on Park Avenue, the film may not be able to be connected to the huddled mass, and its thematic POV "pride is a luxury a woman in love cannot afford" might not be align with today's viewpoint, THE WOMEN still has its unique value in spearheading a paradigm shifting experiment (although ironically women are without exception subordinate to their men in the film) to break the shackles which 74 years later unfortunately is still hedging the film business ubiquitously, not to mention the astonishing fashion-show during the midstream (the only color part in this otherwise monochrome artifact), with a retrospective gaze, everything else is a puff, only haute couture relentlessly lasts!

Fast & Furious 6

Watched this one in the local multiplex, honestly I am not an avid fanboy of this money-maker franchise, I am even not an advocate of racing vehicles, but the turning point comes when FAST FIVE (2011, 7/10) surprisingly catapults itself into a new level of sensory entertainment with its roller coaster ride and triumphantly revives the series' mass appeal to a younger generation and has grossed a series-high income means it has yet overstayed its welcome.

Still helmed by Justin Lin, this 6th sequel reunites all the cast, including one of the "original four" Michelle Rodriguez, whose wacky insomnia and vague backstory stirs the most untenable veneer of the plot if one can excuse the physics-defying action sequences as an utmost drawing power to allure new genre lovers and retain its core audiences. So a large drawback of this one is it is solely made for one's eyes only, one should completely ignore what is the convoluted plot going on by the villain and his cohorts and plainly indulge oneself in the great stunt work to find it is worth your ticket.

Unequivocally it is a tough job for any writer to create new blood for the franchise since it allows very limited leeway to inspire from the original cast, and due to the aesthetic fatigue, sooner or later, a younger cast must be mustered so as to invigorate a healthy metabolism for the faded set pieces. In this one, the newcomer is a strapping Luke Evans as the main villain, whose temperament presages a brighter future as a leading man candidate in world cinema, but unfortunately this film is not his breakthrough, at most a stepping stone permits him to be seen by more people and hence enlarges his fan base.

Everyone else is pigeonholed with their respective task, Johnson bullies scumbags, Diesel passionlessly sweet-talks with his comeback battle-axe, Walker retreats into a family man, Gibson and Ludacris are the pair of cutups, the ass-kicking martial pro Carano is here for girl fights while Kang and Gadot cannot run away from their functional exit, which plausibly introduce another bankable name as the next villain for the next chapter, due next year and will be transferred to be under the reign of horror-genre whiz James Wan, let's pray for a miracle to sustain its longevity and if we are lucky enough, a better one next time!

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

This 1970s Italian political drama opens with a compelling murder live show, a dapper man, Volonté (the head of homicide squad) artfully kills his erotic mistress (Bolken) with a sharp blade, and what's befuddling the viewers is after that, Volonté intentionally leaves many traces which could be implicated to him at the scene of the crime, all the more a face-to-face encounter with a witness when he leaves the building. Naturally, one has to divine his motivation of his deviant contrivances, but the film doesn't opt to give a straightforward answer to the illogicality, instead it unwinds itself into a sociological tirade aiming at the blazon compliance of the ruling power echelon, Volonté has been promoted to a more authoritarian post, politics-oriented, and the cover-up process degrades the whole investigation into a farce, lushly recorded by the agile camera.

Arguably, this is Elio Petri's most famous film, an Oscar's BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM crowner, and won him 2 awards in CANNES that year, Petri may not occupy an international cachet so high as his Italian peers, but the film can potently justify his talent, it is an authentic gas, wonderfully designed camerawork with a great architectonic predilection, astute sense of unpicking the tacit phone-interception dirty business, a twitchy sensibility towards the rotten authorities, and upbraids an undeniable self-awareness of being politically-biased.

Volonté is tailor-made for the leading role, a typical male chauvinist, over-cocksure by appearance while underneath he is a man haunted by his impotence and jealousy (Bolken has mentioned a few times he is only a child which effectively irritates him), although ambiguous about the raison d'être of his act, Volonté is confident, menacing and impressive out of his common Spaghetti image. Bolken is billed as the co-lead, but mostly appears in flashback and the film has curtailed her character to a sexy trophy, a power-worshipper and a dispensable pawn whose stupidity overshadows her own demise, nevertheless she is a stunner in all her shots. The standout of the all-male supporting cast is Salvo Randone as an innocent plumber, who caves in poignantly in front of power, a bona-fide scene stealer.

Last but not the least is Ennio Morricone's score, the repeated motif has a synthesized rhythm, catchy and indelible, throughout the film, it renders the film a touch of ridicule and never leave any chance for the audiences to be bored by the doctrinal tone the film unintentionally betrays.

White House Down

My once a week cinema-going experience, Emmerich's latest tentpole is a doppelgänger of another White House terrorists-attack actioner (at least plot wise), Antoine Fuqua's OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN (2013), and its North American box office performance has tanked badly ($69,430,120 for WHD Vs. $98,925,640 for OHF so far), which is a rather unlooked-for denouement for the internecine combat, considering from all aspects, the timing and the budget (a summer blockbuster Vs. a spring release), directors' cachet (Emmerich is a monolith name in the genre) and the cast (Tatum is the hottest leading man in the Hollywood right now and his drawing power has been solidly tested by different genres), it is an impossible battle to lose for WHD, nevertheless the reality has no clemency, but Chinese market could be its last haven, a sizable income is well expected.

Generally speaking the film is a safe bet, the retro-80s packed action, a state-of-the-art SFX, a corny but effective father-saving-daughter stock-in-trade, a topical black president with enjoyable banters, and a last-minute twist of revealing the culprit. Scale-wise, the film cannot beat Emmerich's 2012 (2009, 6/10), THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004, 5/10) or INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996, 7/10), but it doesn't prevent it from being a satisfactory pop-corn fest.

Tatum takes after a young John McClane image from DIE HARD franchise, an unbeatable stud defies all the bullets and weaponry, teamed with a righteous and suave president, with no military background, whose fighting-back is more amusing and anticipating than Tatum's special agent's combat skill. Child star Joey King is a new-rising starlet, a politics-enthusiastic and premature girl, an underage heroine is equally praiseworthy as her father. The schemes behind the rebels are half-witted, but Jason Clarke and James Woods are the attention-grabbers, typical villain-design, but introducing their own fiber of insanity in their executions. Maggie Gyllenhaal is engaging but hasn't been warranted any showboating opportunity in a masculine-dominant bullets-bombarding thriller.

I cannot say I'm disappointed by the film and anyhow it is a middle-of-the-road output with wide appeal to the general taste of hoi polloi, one thumb up for its verisimilitude of the precise reproduction of the world-famous locale. As a misfire from Emmerich, one could blame audiences' aesthetic fatigue of the same milieu but a revive of old-fashioned action hero fails to reconnect with the superhero-fed generation and it is something beyond Tatum and Emmerich's capabilities.

Children of a Lesser God

Marlee Matlin has been fending for the record of being the youngest BEST ACTRESS winner in Oscar's history for 26 years now (at the age of 21), which is rehashed by this year's Jennifer Lawrence's winning (at the age of 22), a closest challenger ever. What intrigues me is how Academy would grant its top honor to such a youngster? I reckon she must play a role older than her real age (as Lawrence did in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK 2012, 7/10) apart from her differing ability. And my guess is right, it is a meaty role would elicit an actress' all-out capacity to catch the attention and empathy from beholders, plus Matlin is gorgeously beautiful in person, from an anger-ridden minimal-wager earner to a feisty woman yearning for independence and not pandering for her lover's conventional salvation, a deaf woman's own silent world is her own powerhouse, arms her with determination and self-confidence. The film is directed by female director Randa Haines and adapted from Mark Medoff's Broadway play, a touch of sentimentality is abiding throughout, goes with the saccharine score by Michael Convertino.

The other half of the film is William Hurt, the sensual leading man of 1980s' Hollywoodland, he is a speech teacher for deaf children and is besotted with Matlin's eccentricities, he is not a flawless romantic prince, he can rescue her from mundane chores but his insistence of her to speak (in spite of her deafness) denotes a generalized point of view of patronizing the impaired, trying to change them to cater for the life the society designs while being blind to their real needs, aka, he can never enter into her silence, a message being clearly disseminated during their altercation. Hurt is also admirable in learning all the sign languages in the film (by comparison, Piper Laurie as Matlin's mother, is barely trying to do so for communication, not Laurie's fault though since it reflects pitch perfect how their relationship is, and Laurie earned a surprising third Oscar nomination despite of her character's sparing screen time), and the chemistry between him and Matlin makes wonder, how one can forget the aesthetically stunning underwater shots when they accept each other in the swimming pool for the very first time.

One distinguished feature is there is no dubbing of sign languages in the films, instead they are all interpreted by the recipients by words, so for the majority who don't learn sign languages, what we are able to understand is the secondary information reiterated by another person (mainly Hurt in this case), which in a way bars our immediate perception and we also feel frustrated inasmuch as the language barrier is too obvious to overcome. The happy ending may not be an overused cliche as that time, but watching it in the year of 2013, it alleviates the gravitas of the kernel, it is more like a mismatched pair than a happy-ever-after fairytale, one can imagine their future would still be choppy because independence takes no middle ground in its process, in any rate, the film could only be referred as in its half way of being great.

The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups)

French New Wave's magnum opus, THE 400 BLOWS is director Truffaut's feature debut and my third entry after JULES AND JIM (1962, 9/10) and THE LAST METRO (1980, 8/10), Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel (Truffaut's alter ego), a 12-year-old schoolboy, continuously clashes with his parents and teachers, after a spell of happy-go-lucky mischief with his best buddy René, Antoine is sent to a delinquent center, after a flippant escape and a long shot of his running, the film abruptly climaxes with him reach the seaside, staring straight at the camera and zooming his indeterminate future right into the spectators mindset, which is listed as one of the most influential endings in the film history.

Truffaut's expertness in camera movements is so remarkable and it is beyond the fact that it is only his first film, take the centrifuge ride shots for examination, both rotating ones and stationary ones are novel to commingle together from different angels, a feat can only be amazed. Another much-appreciated long shot is about a gym teacher leading a group of schoolboys jogging on the streets, the sky-roving camera meticulously and jovially captures the process of boys sneaking away from the procession by turns, such a benevolent and ingenious skit, the same can be referred to a little boy's ink-smearing writing scenes, the close-up records the entire happening resolutely, these paragraphs augment a touch of enlightenment and virtue of innocence which resides inside every kid's heart in spite of the story per se is a tale of woe. Antoine's familial life suffices all the negligence and misery that will impair any unsullied soul, it is a tragedy has omnipotent repercussions on everyone, Truffaut and his co-screenwriter Marcel Moussy inject great dedication and patience into Antoine's character, it is for sure the most acute and iconic portrayal of a child ever on the silver screen!

The grainy texture and vintage monochrome of the film has an immanent allure to film buffs, apart from Léaud, Claire Maurier and Albert Rémy as the mother and stepfather of Antoine, both resemble a kitchen-sink superficiality and lifelike casualness as the rest of the cast, Léaud's naturalistic responses towards fate's rough handling is a boon, it is explicitly emotive and the film has earned its prominence fair and square, a must-see should not be missed by aficionados.

After Earth
After Earth(2013)

Based on a weekly turnover, in China it is pretty frustrating to find an ideal film to watch in cinema to meet everyone's taste, this week, the best offer (for me) is AFTER EARTH, a North American flop stars Smith Family, directed by the ever-downgrading wunderkind Mr. Shyamalan (this time descends to the hack hired by Will Smith personally). With zero expectation, the film is a slim action adventure exploits Will Smith's star power to bolster his son Jaden Smith, but the paper-thin script and a sub-par visual SFX bewilders its viewers where its reported budget goes ($130,000,000)?, call me a sceptic, is the whole hubbub an internal money-laundry chicanery?

A pseudo-epic start briefly justifies why mankind abandons the earth, and relocates at a new planet with the new arch enemy, a fear-sensing brute. After a reckless asteroids attack, an aircraft crash-lands on earth and miraculously all the crew are dead except for Jaden and Will, the latter is the commander of the team and is injured and immobilized by broken legs for rest of the film, up till then, the film plunges into a young boy's journey of seeking courage by facing a menagerie of mutant wild animals on his quest to track down a beacon apparatus which he could use to call for the rescue team, and now is in the rear part of the craft and lies amid the formidable wilderness, it is also a boy's rite-of-passage to overcome a past trauma and save himself and his father, who treats him with military disciplines, but a role-model for the whole race because of his "ghosting" skill, which is facilely interpreted as a fearless warrior who is able to be invisible to the brutes, everything is well-foreseen by viewers's imagination and the film fails to ignite audiences' passion at all.

A glum Jaden Smith and ultra-wooden Will Smith can barely hold together the film (one wonders what has happened to the pair in THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS 2006, 7/10), already it is character-scarce, Sophie Okonedo is shamefully underused in the Will Smith's Wife Club, and a dazzling Zoe Kravitz glints only in flashbacks and illusory parts, then all the CGI creatures take the stage by turns, and the final showdown turns out to be a major letdown, again I am very curious about how they spent the gargantuan budget? It looks too cheap compared with other summer tentpoles.

It is inevitable a stain in Mr. Smith's filmography, the mass is repellent and jealous of nepotism especially when he or she is a superstar, the Smith family may be too keen in showcasing their ambition to establish their dynasty in Hollywood showbiz, this setback should alert them, the market is not ready yet for a blatant mega-family contrivance. Anyhow, what's more disheartening for me is the career orbit of M. Shyamalan, to witness the fall of a young talent is never easy, although we could assume one must reach rock-bottom to bounce back, in that case, I do hope AFTER EARTH is his fortunate nadir.

Dead Ringers
Dead Ringers(1988)

Cronenberg's unsettling denuding of an identical twins' inseparability wreaks controversy in its in-depth protrusion of psychiatric delusion and drug abuse, Jeremy Irons, plays the Mantle twins, both gynecologists and live together, even perversely share the same woman. Albeit their mirror-image resemblance, Beverly is the shy boffin while Elliot is the gregarious mouthpiece who is astute and dedicative in taking care of his younger brother's every need, after meeting a sterile actress (Claire) who has a mutant vagina, Beverly irrationally falls for her and slowly he becomes drug-addictive and paranoid (cause and effect), and even Elliot couldn't rescue him, a finally unhinged Beverly slips into the abyss and tragedy is irrevocable.

Irons offers a tour-de-force engagement by splitting himself into two disparate roles, initially one wonders how could we tell them separately, and 5 minutes later, one will realize how distinguishable they are, Beverly is a meek soul, his life orbit is dominated and regulated by Elliot, who is sensible enough to admit they are an entity since neither of them could live without each other, nonetheless, the equilibrium has fatefully been violated by the interloper Claire, Bujold is feisty and emanates a cocktail of independence and vulnerability which fatally enchants Beverly and triggers his downhill of the separation procedure. The midstream of the film deals with the decomposition of Beverly's mental stability has damped down by a slightly tedious script, which is wanting some explicable introductions to the mayhem it has caused, but the coda does save the pathos and it is mesmerizing and gives a sucker punch to the gut.

Cronenberg's films often leave me some bitter aftertaste, last year's COSMOPOLIS (2012, 4/10) is beyond my interpretation, but DEAD RINGERS has its integral breakdown of a psychosexual drama, and fanboys will be exulted to indulge in Cronenberg's signature chimerical shots (sundering the umbilical cord, the surgery ceremony in vermillion with a set of eerie apparatus) and there are magical contrivances to put two Jeremy Irons present in the same frames (deeming its pre-computer era), accolades should be also awarded to the film's steadfast emotion liberation, which encroaches inches by inches into the subliminal conscious of its protagonists, a compelling piece of work rests higher on the shelf than Cronenberg's other lesser creations.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Oscar's two-times BEST DIRECTOR winners is an elite coterie (newly recruited is Ang Lee earlier this year), Czech-born Milo Forman is another foreigner has accomplished the one-two punch with this film and AMADEUS (1984, 9/10). What's more impressive, it achieved another grand slam in all 5 major Oscar categories.

Basically the film is confined inside a mental institution, among a breed of patients, a newcomer McMurphy's arrival stirs Nurse Ratched's tyranny, whose strategy of manipulating those deranged is to coerce them into retread their horrible past and force them suffer under the name of group therapy, such a detestable character, Louise Fletcher nailed it, a borderline leading role, Fletcher's Oscar victory may raise some controversy, but her performance is impeccable in accentuating a devilish incarnation of obstinacy and ruthlessness. Nicholson won his first Oscar in his heyday, as McMurphy, a petty criminal has a sane mind, threatens the authorities as a black sheep in the group, whose devil-may-care boldness and utter naivety (assuming that the institution is a much better place than a prisoners' reforming farm) conflicts in the process of his freedom-seeking and his direct influence on other real mentally-impaired ward mates, ultimately, his tragedy is a boomerang to his gullibility and self-considered kindness, which squanders his best shot of escape and obliquely preconditions Billy's final breakdown. The ambivalence of McMurphy's heroic recklessness is the most intriguing topic of the film, he is not an amiable fellow, a ruffian on the street with a rebellious attitude, it is not in his intention to ameliorate his fellow mates' condition, his presence does not have an initiative motivation, what he does is his knee-jerking response of a living soul who hankers for an unsubdued environment which the society refuses to proffer.

There are many political allusions can be extracted from the film, to which I shall not refer since I am no American and am unfamiliar with the history, but the film garners a great amount of impressive supporting performances, Dourif's big screen debut is stutteringly poignant, whose demise is a facile move in heightening the tension, but performance-wise, it is more awe-inspiring than the two leads aforementioned. Sampson, as the Chief, symbolizes the hope of the unsuppressed, his backstory is curtailed and his pretense has never been given a chance to be expounded. Two old-hand actors are surprisingly seen in this film when in their youth, a tough Lloyd and a meek DeVito, and many deceased names also, Crothers, Redfield and Lassick, the latter is another show-stealer, over-the-top but strikingly hilarious.

Forman's preference over classical music also reflects in the film, the opening score from Jack Nitzsche hums along with a melancholic tone and the symphony-driven pieces are inserted into the right place at the right time. There are many memorable shots, e.g. Nicholson being electric-shocked and Fletcher being strangled are too authentic to stare, on the whole ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST is a sound accusation towards high-handed suppression and dominance, its sociological impact even rises above over the film's own integrity of a gem made with excellent cast and wry irony.

Blind Detective (Man Tam)

Johnnie To's latest film marks a long-anticipated reunion of Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, the rom-com triad has chalked up magical box-office draw and successes in the Aughts (most victorious ones are LOVE ON A DIET 2001, 7/10 and NEEDING YOU... 2000, 8/10), and after a 9-year-hiatus (since YESTERDAY ONCE MORE 2004, 6/10), this "iron triangle" has notched up an inspiring comeback which ingeniously imbues a lighthearted rom-com into an out-of-left-field detective thriller with an adequate whodunit revelation in the end.

For international territory, Johnnie To is mostly appreciated by his grim and stylized portrayal of Hong Kong's crime and gangster underbellies, a patriarch ruling world of ambitious figures seeking for money, women and power, but his collaboration with Lau and Cheng is a consistent offshoot from To and his own MILKY WAY IMAGE COMPANY's prolific filmography, not to mention is his most popular and profitable ones. So the innovation banks on how To would mingle his trademark darker traits into the audience-friendly couple (Lau and Cheng, indicates their 7th on-screen alliance as lovers), which could allure both To's hardcore fans and a wider general appeal from a maturer demography. Judging by the finished film, the tentative stab is a smart move, BLIND DETECTIVE is on its way of becoming To's most money-earning film in mainland China market (previously the record was just freshly held by To's earlier drug-cartel undercover drama DRUG WAR 2012).

A posh Andy Lau, a former police officer who has been blind in lieu of his negligence of his own health in order to track suspects, teamed with a wealthy policewoman (Cheng), who is obsessed with the disappearance of her friend 20 years ago, together they manage to crack a few unsolved cases while put their own lives in danger. For Lau's method of deducing, if you are familiar with the new series HANNIBAL, imaging oneself at the murder scene and incarnating one's identity as the culprit to visualize what had happened is not new, but the mind-cum-body default (Lau is the mastermind while Cheng is the right-hand woman does all the action labor) works wonder here, with Cheng's ongoing crush on Lau, the pair sparks off a flavorful rib-tickling screwball casualness allies with the horrid cases they are working on, a superb visual stunt comes from the mortuary slaughter, gallows humor galore.

Sammi Cheng is burdened with a great quantity of physical endeavor out of her slim frame, furthermore she is exhorted to deliver her career-best stretches as the film demands, i.e. the myriad avatars of heartbroken female victims, and her comical timing with Lau is another linchpin to the success. Lau, an epicure more than a sleuth, is amiable and emits his deadly debonair all over the devil-may-care script. Among supporting roles, mainland players Tao Guo and Yuanyuan Gao are sidelined only as comic relief, while a cocktail of veteran Hong Kong thespians is shortchanged by the brevity of their presence.

Strictly speaking, the process of disclosing the perpetrators is not as cogent as it seems, the hyperbole of Lau's knack (against his blindness) is sometimes pulling audiences out of the picture a bit, but BLIND DETECTIVE is a paradigm of To and his team's great attempt to concoct a genre-blender which is both entertaining and ruminative, it is an earnest piece of work, a precious gem considering the plight of China's mainstream cinema (potboilers are brimful while the market is rising at an exponential rate), Johnnie To, is the last straw of the once-glorious Hong Kong film industry and he is the trailblazer refuses to compromise or pander for the unique policy-oriented requirements, calling for emulators and successors.

Man of Steel
Man of Steel(2013)

My most anticipated summer blockbuster of 2013, from the mastermind of 300 (2006, 7/10) and WATCHMEN (2009, 7/10), the reboot of the most popular superhero has undergone a series of choppy fluctuations since the underperformance of Bryan Singer's SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006, 7/10), so an IMAX plus 3D version for me is a prerequisite to watch.

Not an avid fan of Snyder, but MAN OF STEEL is an up-to-par epic bandwagon superbly grafts the invincible Kryptonian alien under the context of a xenophobic earth milieu, a human environment-nurtured extraterrestrial identity chooses to combat against his own race to save the cynical earthlings.

The film majestically branches out a unique palette of indigo and gray, a post-apocalypse solemness which is unlike most of its superfluous comic-derived peers (producer Christopher Nolan's sway may be a plausible influence), and a hefty impetus of Clark Kent's poignant relation with his human parents perpetually spurs the film to imprint its most eloquent fingerprints onto the heart of its recipients, a far better fulfillment than the parents-bereaved spidey (both Costner and Lane are heartwarming and sagacious in it).

Crowe and Zurer as Superman's biological parents, both are throwaway in the overture of Krypton's demise, the former then resurrects himself as a bewildering wraith inside the flying vehicle, sabotages General Zod's scheme. Against the ageism, Adams offers brilliant ballast as the mettlesome journalist Lois Lane, a paragon of the benevolence from human part, the mutual attraction between her and Kent is ignited, but markedly Snyder saves the best for the sequel. Antje Traue and Christopher Meloni, one is the ferocious sidekick of Zod, another is a human general fights till his self-sacrifice heroic act, brings out an intensive beast-and-prey pattern of diversion which is a rare treat for side players in mainstream cinema. Michael Shannon as General Zod, a bona-fide super-villain counteracts Superman's almighty indestructibility, his human-eradication theory surpasses any comic fecklessness, and the gravity-reconstruction concept really put the entire planet hanging on a thread (I always redeem a sudden depletion of gravity is the way to our doomsday), Shannon is incredible to magnify his militant loyalty and the genocide-prone mercilessness whilst viewers would eventually be touched by the former, such a transcending feat to accomplish out of a fixated mold. Same can be stated to Henry Cavill's Superman, he is a flawless messiah of our planet, and Cavill is the perfect Superman, both from his physique and his charisma (and finally the underwear goes underneath his uniform), his oscillation has never been shied away in the film, and it makes the final neck-breaking such an emotional disturbance
both to him and to the viewers.

The CGI effects are another fusillade of leveling cities and blasting buildings after THE AVENGERS (2012, 5/10), but an amazing stunt is this time it ad hoc showcases an uplifting process of Superman's sway of his flying expertise. A recurrent blip of the genre is the willful negligence of the aftershock, 5 seconds later, everyone act like they are totally oblivious of the apocalyptic attack no matter how damaged the city is, the transference is unnaturally nettling, the least one can do is to take a few shots of people's contemplation as survivors of such a catastrophe, or raise hope to shoot scenes of the restoration and a panorama of the mess is a must to deepen the seriousness of the matter.

Anyhow, MAN OF STEEL is a stylized orthodox superhero film which successfully recoups the fanboys and bolsters a stronghold for the series in its lucrative future projects, its mass appeal might lag behind Marvel's SHIELDS coalition, but Superman's adventure will be more audacious and reflective other than its entertaining face value.

The Aviator's Wife (La femme de l'aviateur)

Now I can safely deem I have reached an approximate age to watch Rohmer's canon, mid-30s is a ripe age to broach more cerebral film viewing activities, so my first and random pick is THE AVIATOR'S WIFE, Rohmer's first part of Comedies et Proverbes (6 parts in all) series.

The film is capsulized in one-day's span, Francois (Marlaud), a young student whose night shift makes the relationship with his girlfriend Anne (Rivière) in strain, after witnessing Anne left with her ex-lover Christian (Carrière) from her apartment in the morning, and later a sour altercation with Anne, a jealousy-driven Francois compulsively follows Christian and his blonde companion (Caillot), and by happenstance he meets a 15-year-old schoolgirl Lucie (Meury), the two improvise an amateurish but perky private detective team until they find out Christian goes to visit a lawyer. After Lucie departs, Francois visits a stress-inflicted Anne, it seems they reconcile and Francois figures out who the blonde is. When the night falls, Anne is out for an exhausting date and Francois accidentally finds Lucie kiss another boy, so he sends a postcard to her and put a closure to their stalking adventure, the story ends.

There is no big twist or melodramatic plots in Rohmer's film, he masterfully recounts the dribs and drabs of emotions pestering one's relationship and daily lives, visceral and empathetic, he unerringly captures the quirks and fluctuations of the characters he writes, no larger-than-life frills, everything returns to an authentic basis which reflects its transfixing mojo, for example, the intricate discovery of the blonde's identity is casually schemed, but never condescending or audience-pandering, truth reveals itself in its most trivial form, also in the park, when Lucie intends to take a Polaroid from two tourists, it is lifelikeness never feel redundant in spite of its overlong progress which would be trimmed in most cinematic presentations, but Rohmer is confident to let his audience to savor the subtle interactions among the players and keeps it vibrant.

The sad trivia of the cast is Marlaud would soon die in a tragic camping tent fire accident after completing this film, he was only 22, in the film he interprets a sensitive and diffident boy, who is smitten with Anne, an independent working girl 5 years older than him, their on-and-off rapport is under close scrutiny, and Rivière takes on a more difficult role and dominates the screen especially during her expository declaration of her credo in self-reliance in her tiny apartment. Meury is a delight in the midstream, maybe too quick-witted for a 15-year-old, but her natural self-confidence could easily win audiences over.

The titular wife only exists as a glimpse on a picture, whose backstory would illicit another film feature to expound an existential individual's philosophical quandary about affection and compromise. Sadly, there is no Rohmer in this world anymore.

Behind the Candelabra

Steven Soderbergh's tentative final film is a biography of Liberace, with the cast of Michael Douglas (his post-cancer comeback) and Matt Damon, it still fails to secure a cinema release in USA, which comes across as a bummer since after BROKENBACK MOUNTAIN (2005, 10/10) and MILK (2008, 8/10), in the mainstream media, gay films haven't yet progressed much thanks to the conservative top brass in the Hollywood. Anyway, trends will change eventually, nothing can stop it, USA made a great advancement several days ago and the rest of the world will follow.

Michael Douglas stuns with his effeminate mimicry (on stage is the lilting rendition) in the film as the world-known pianist, a flamboyant closeted-man, a selfish control-freak obsesses with his complexion and his tabloid news, but he is also a genius player, an apt entertainer, although the taste he denotes is tawdry and grandiose, he is a nouveau-riche would make the rest of the world grudge. Though hobbled by my ignorance of Liberace, Douglas' incarnation is a self-challenging ambition and now an Emmy award is low-hanging fruit for him, and the make-up team too is awesome, both the face-lifting and AIDS-afflicting guises are eyeball-grabbing.

Matt Damon is his Adonis baby-boy Scott Thorson, albeit both him and Douglas are two-decades older than their characters in real age, it is a long-delayed meaty role for Matt, in lieu of the film is based on Scott's own version of the story, he hogs an ever longer screen time than Liberace, one might find him in lack of a sense of queerness in his rough-edginess (by comparison, Boyd Holbrock is more accurate in presenting his allure as another young flesh for Liberace), but the choice itself flouts the stereotype, and Damon runs the gamut of emotions from a naive boy falls for an elder man to a meds-addicted fop cannot get over with his philandering significant other, his best performance so far!

Two highlights from the supporting group, Rob Lowe, whose face undergoes an extreme elevation, plays deadpan humor at its best as the plastic surgeon; the legendary Debbie Reynolds, also stands out as Liberace's mother whose exotic accent and childish playfulness leave a strong impression from her brief stint in the film.

Out of my wayward obstinacy, I put Damon ahead of Douglas regarding the performance, but the film is a well-orchestrated drama, Soderbergh steers clear of any offshoots and centers on the troubled relationship which is tedious but typical in a mundane world. We sneer it on the screen whilst in reality we tread the same water again and again.

Elsker Dig For Evigt

Dogme movement (1995-2005) is a terra incognita for me, although now it has officially existed only as a terminology thanks to the ubiquitous evasion of shooting on location with any cellphones or other handheld lighter gizmos, and its spirit has been ingested by more advanced mutants (e.g. mumblecore). But Susanne Bier is not merely a Dogme enthusiast, AFTER THE WEDDING (2006 7/10) is a redoubtable relationship dissection and OPEN HEARTS (the new Hannibal Mads Mikkelsen star in both films) treads the same territory to examine the complexity of humans' conundrum between desire and responsibility, ethics and emotions.

Two couples, one is engaged, another has 3 children, a car accident (not entirely abides by the Dogme rules though) turns their worlds upside down, a threat is common-or-garden both in the cinematic and real world; the life-changing mishap prompts an adultery between a middle class doctor and the disheartened fiancée, whose fiancé undergoes a permanent quadriplegia from the car accident where the doctor's wife is the offender.

The face-fixated close-ups extensively put those characters under scrutiny for their rational and irrational behaviors, natural light commingles with saturated palette (during the beginning and the ending) and a black & white lens of the blurry and grainy illusory fancy. The cast is sterling, a quartet of tug-of-war from Mikkelsen, Richter, Lie Kass and Steen, a humdrum-weary family man holds his seven-year-itch infatuation to a damsel-in-distress; a comfort-seeker with abiding guilt of abandoning her bed-ridden fiancé; a young paralyzer who ruthlessly deserts his fiancée for his incompetence as a proper man but still hankers for her company; a wife is rueful of her road rage and its tragic repercussions, suddenly devastated by her husband's utter betrayal; Steen's impromptu slapping and Mikkelsen's reaction are among the best on-screen intensified scenes I have even seen, three of the four leads end up in my yearly top 10 list (guess who narrowly missed the spot?).

But on the other hand, the melodramatic core of the story hobbles a soul-searching catharsis and empathetic introspection which would put the film onto an upper notch, Bier and DP Morten Søborg's camera is erratic but not dizzily shaky, the fly-on-the-wall intimacy allows us to take a much closer look at the symptoms and the cause of the frailty resides in every soul on earth, and offers us staying in a paralleled world, munches with palliative pills to ease our own troubles.

Ni guang fei xiang (Touch of the Light)

2012 Oscar BEST FOREIGN FILM submission from Taiwan, saw it in the local multiplex in Shanghai, a more-than-10-months procrastination from its Taiwan theatrical run, its mainland box-office never really kicked off since it is an an art cinema alternative from a first-time director and without any bankable names in it, still I was intrigued by its warm reviews (also it got 3 Golden Horse Awards nominations last year), so needless to say it is the kind of film I prefer to offer my contribution.

Adapted by a true story, a blind pianist prodigy Yu-Siang Huang, who plays himself in the film, and the film stretches out his pristine university life with a college drop-out girl's endeavor to pursue her passion for dancing (played by Yung-Yung Chang, already a three-time Golden Horse Awards BEST ACTRESS nominee at the age of 25, including one she got from this film), the film's greatest merit is the light touch of its tear-jerking scenario, the mother-son affection has managed to deliver a kitchen-sink authenticity without too many embellishments, actress Lieh Li who plays Huang's mother, brilliantly incarnates a subtle flair of humbleness, lovingness and tenderness.

It is an encouraging film, exhorts everyone to follow his or her dreams, to strive for it, and it also shuns a hackneyed underdog's victory, neither the quartet performance nor the dance competition has functioned as a means of gaining instant fame or success, more or less it symbolizes Huang's motto - everybody is born equally, although he is blind, it should not be considered as his disadvantage or his perk, his zeal of music is out of his heart, not a tool to grandstand for his own favor, the same can be inducted to Yung-Yung, she may not be pick of the bunch, but when she dances, she radiates with happiness.

The uplifting theme is perpetually presented by a hazy cinematography (a nice focus on Huang's eyes with mostly looking-up angle) under the accompany of gentle light and a melodic score, this type of film is categorized as a sub-genre in Taiwan's cinematic scene, in Mandarin we call it "Xiao Qing Xin", literally means "small, fresh and novel", aiming at youngsters' love and friendship in rural or urban lives. TOUCH OF THE LIGHT is an engrossing storyteller, although all its components are stock-in-trade, the sleight of hand and a competent cast are worth at least some ovations and for me it is always delightful to discover new blood from that insular isle.


STOKER is South Korean director Chan-wook Park's Hollywood debut, a screenplay written by Wentworth Miller (not-just-a-pretty-face from PRISON BREAK), and the trinity of the stars in the poster seems alluring, but bears the height of his vengeance trilogy (2002-2005), most likely it would end up to be another mishap of exotic directors lose their mojo under the high-handed industry regulations. But STOKER suffices as a hotbed for the monomania runs in the family bloodline, a maniac returns to his long-lost family and enkindles the evil out of his only kin, sounds like a horror-slasher, but the film tends to be a rite-of-passage for our protagonist India, a girl lost his father at her 18th birthday, meanwhile, murders are all around the family, even the trailer neither cares to hush up the victims nor to reveal the culprit (poor two-times Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver).

The ethereal atmosphere is ubiquitous in the film, sets against the contemporary society, the family basically is insulated in its villa, with succinct tête-à-têtes and reserved rejoinders among three leading characters, which does not effectively propel the storyline, it is the detailed camerawork, meticulously heaps up the triangle incestuous appeal among the three, Chan-wook adopts quite a few uncommon modi operandi to hone up the tension and flashback the hidden history of the past, the stop-motion shots in the beginning and the incessant time-and-space jump montages might engender some inconvenience for the eyes, but undoubtedly they lend the film a posh brio, so is the tableaux-alike settings, jibes with the oriental philosophy of subdued emotion under a placid surface.

Mia Wasikowska excels herself in upholding her morose frostiness, the masturbating orgasm could be regarded as a metaphor for her career-elevation, sheds the protection of adolescence and challenges herself to darker and more dangerous orbit, Alice doesn't live there anymore! Matthew Goode, albeit his very underused career path, finally secures a leading role excavating his double-faced charm and menace, even after his real identity has been unearthed and his doom has been pre-designed, he still launches a sympathetic glamour in his inexplicable possession towards his niece whom he has never seen before. Nicole Kidman, whom I find perplexed to take on such an unsympathetic and flat role and if as rightful as it is reported, a tailor-made request from Chan-wook.

Finally, its has a killing soundtrack, a cocktail of Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood's SUMMER WINE and a quasi-vampire allegory, I've found my snug corner to embrace the 99 minutes of how slaughter becomes a genetic heredity and the frisson is all over the place!

Atlantic City

Malle's Venice Film Festival Golden Lion winner and hence successfully procured 5 Oscar nominations in 1982, the Big Five (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Script) but lost all of them.

The opening voyeuristic gaze towards a young Susan Sarandon's bare breasts is a brazen invitation to a tale of lust and passion, but when it reveals its beholder is a weather-beaten codger, an ethical uneasiness has been motivated on the subject matter as a knee-jerking response, a december-may obsession has its intrinsic inclination to prompt its viewers with polarized acceptance. Luckily, Burt Lancaster is spry and self-aware as the pip-squeak, who sends off a dignity-ballasted aplomb even when he is dictated by his old flame for money, and Malle and screenwriter John Guare mercifully glistens his twilight years with a belated opportunity to spice up his low-end life, and the ending is a tad out of left field but also understandable with its benevolent gesture to a sympathetic soul.

This is authentically Ms. Sarandon's big breakthrough role, a simple girl always on-the-make and striving for a better life (getting married with a sad sack to get out of a provincial town, taking croupier class to secure a job in the casino), not that Oscar-worthy in my opinion, but she is a natural performer to oscillates between spitfire honesty and self-serving shrewdness; by contrast, Lancaster's Oscar-nomination is more deserving, merely a cipher would be left unnoticed at the shady corner of casino shindig, finally pays his dues to save a lady and revitalize his own life, though Sarandon's sexual allure is the precondition, Malle and Guare carefully skirt around the prickly issue by injecting a more acceptable closure of their relationship. Kate Reid, as garish as she is in the role of an aging silk-stocking widow, embellishes the film with her own way of levity (the ineffable expression when Lancaster cops a feel in her bed) while other supporting cast is purely bells and whistles.

I cannot say this is Malle's apotheosis, my favorite among his oeuvre (so far) is still THE FIRE WITHIN (1963, 9/10), nevertheless ATLANTIC CITY never loses its zest in spinning a yarn for the aged generation, and it is also a sensible elegy to those who dies without fulfilling their dreams, it is never too late to shoot a few mobsters!


Watched this Disney's optimal animation in its BluRay form, a stock-in-trade family crowd-pleaser which has been engineered with an impeccable technique and what's more impressive, it oozes an unceasing force of genuineness to edify both children and adults, no condescending doctrine nor feckless naivety, and Robin Williams' voice-performance as the Genie is a great bonus and plays a big part in the film's classic status among its genre.

To enumerate Genie's potpourri of imitations alone could be cogent enough to showcase the finesse both for the animators and the voice cast, Robin Williams is deadly hilarious, the motormouthed omnipotent servant, massively steals the thunder from everyone else. But it is not a pejorative remark to other players, on the contrary, it has the most effervescent ensemble including a usually trite class-defying mutual attraction between a princess with a lower-status prince charming. Jafar and Iago pair is another hoot apart from Genie, laughters galore!

The plot line entwines pretty much in Disney's safe pattern, a romantic encounter, an abrupt departure, a reunion under the pretense as a legitimate suitor, fighting the evil enemy and happy forever ending, while it really pushes Aladdin to the edge of the cliff since Jafar's invincibility seems to be unbreakable, and the eleventh hour turnover is nothing less than a satisfactory one.

2D animation surely has been largely outcast from the lucrative market, but one can never ascertain there will be a wave of coming back in some years ahead, like Black and White films, their unique aestheticism is the wellspring of their vitality, after watching ALADDIN, it perfectly suffices to originate great mojo of satisfaction for an adult first-time viewer, so the last rites seem to be unnecessary, but a niche market-planning should be conducted for the sake of the laborious craftsmanship.

The film currently sits at No.2 at my top 10 film of 1992, and Williams earns him a fifth slot in the supporting actor race, the one and only voice-performance on my own Oscar list!

Face to Face (Ansikte mot Ansikte)

One of my film-watching habits is to amble around widely-ranging varieties of films from different directors, different eras, different genres and different countries, then randomly picks one under my own volition, from time to time, I may have a compulsive appetite towards Ingmar Bergman, though whose films often demands a longer interval between, almost 5 months after watching SUMMER INTERLUDE (1951, 7/10), my second entry of this year?s Bergman pilgrimage is FACE TO FACE, his latter psychiatric study of a tormented woman?s endeavor to find her true self, and the most extraordinary feat is unbiasedly attributed to Liv Ullmann?s tour-de-force commitment to her role, a quintessential once-in-a-lifetime liberation to be elicited on the screen, a touchstone for Liv?s legendary career!

A 35mm color film, Liv Ullmann plays a psychiatrist, who has just emptied her house and relocated to live with her grandparents while waiting to be transferred abroad with her frequent-on-business husband and her daughter, currently is in a student camp. Then the claustrophobic apartment where her grandparents stay apparently is also the place she spent most of her childhood, and it uncannily resurrects the wraith of a forbidding image haunts her once and now reappears, an indeed hair-raiser out of Bergman?s indomitable close-framing.

Liv?s mental condition keeps going downhill after she experiences an unsuccessful rape attempt, which subsequently evokes her inner sexual dissatisfaction and she confides to her new acquaintance she at first met at a friend?s birthday party (a fellow doctor whose initiative towards her is a moot and will turn out to be closeted gay man, played by Josephson, who retreats from Liv?s counterpart husband in SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE 1973, 8/10 to a sidelined observer) about her innermost desire. Deeply harassed by the recurring wraith she executes a futile suicide, whereupon she alternatively battles between dream and reality, the illusory dream sequences cast a self-emancipating spell on her but remains elusive to its audiences (her strait-laced childhood, the guilt towards her parents? car accident etc.), finally she seems to convalesce from the incubus and decides to return to work and embrace a brand new day as if nothing has happened, the film abruptly ends, withholding its own POV of what will ensue next.

Death and love is an eternal theme for Bergman, and they surround each other, through his stoic camerawork and overlong gazes into Liv?s escalating breakdown, under the veneer of a normal life, each human individual has a variety of discrepant mentalities contribute to our own distinctiveness and intricacy, within the art form of cinema, no one can best Bergman in this slant and FACE TO FACE is his fastidious anatomy of a living soul to the utmost bareness, as disquieting and repercussive as ever!

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

This film has been enshrined as a paragon of Hollywood's most notorious divas' rivalry both on and off screen, the Davis Vs. Crawford feud, but if parrying away all the trivia and anecdotes and detaching them from their real-life images, the film itself epitomizes a fierce and taut thriller in a rarely-tapped terrain and its deceptive prelude invites us to witness a one-sided mental and physical torture between two over-the-hill broads, and buries a plausible answer in the slightly hasty but honor-bound ending, to pander for a reasonable explanation to their irrational behaviors, and director Robert Aldrich and dramaturge Lukas Heller fairly map out a melodrama-fest with B-movie mania and craziness.

Bette Davis' Jane, what a performance! Sports the oversized child costume with a powdered-up makeup, thoroughly dominates the film from her very first scene to the soppy end. Naturally we all root for Crawford's wheelchair-trapped Blanche, seeing that she ostensibly is the victim of her sister who deliberately maimed her legs and now is under her abuse, it seems that Jane is scheming step-by-step a deadly murder plan which is insinuated along the story, but Davis can single-handedly alter our repulsion when her despondence and delightfulness alternatively bobs up, she is half a wicked soul and half a development-arresting baby girl, whose mindset has been permanently stalled in her heyday, when she was Baby Jane Hudson, a child starlet and the bread-winner, unlike her physically confined sister, what is trapped is her mind, such a couple of damaged goods.

But when Jane's viciousness gradually excruciates and even fatally destroys poor Blanche's ultimate chance of striking back (with extra casualty included), one has to wonder what is behind the story since a mainstream film scarcely dares to veer to an unconventional track when evil actually triumphs, thereof the curiosity presides over and it persists until the final unveiling of the truth, a guilty-ridden goody-goody and a delusional spinster, it is a merciless coda, but at least it diverts the film into a morally-correct direction which grants a wider appealing and acceptance.

Joan Crawford has been entirely overshadowed by Davis out of the plot's necessity, it is less a duel than a capitulated punishment; a plump Victor Buono (who also earns an Oscar nomination alongside Ms. Davis) as the only male-interloper into their lives, vividly impresses us with comic-relief nuances, also extends himself as an odd pair with Davis.

Heavily scored, the film anticipates our mood turbulence precisely which can also be deemed counterproductive by over-dramatizing the tension, but anyone who adore great performances should not miss this film, out of a touch of humanity, Bette Davis teaches every performer a textbook lesson - how to embody cruelness and render empathy in a perfect unison.


It's Audrey Tautou before AMELIE (2001, 9/10), from writer/director Laurent Firode, HAPPENSTANCE is adept in contriving a string of butterfly effects engendered among two dozens of people in one day until at the very end concludes with a boy-meet-girl scenario, they share the same birthday and meet earlier in the morning, then fate brings them together in its unique design, with a bruised nose.

The brisk premise of a horoscopic premonition is intriguing, the pace is upbeat and the camera is restless in introducing a kaleidoscope of quirky dramatis personae into the stage one after another, bewildering sometimes, then once we get a hold of that it is an assemble piece whose mainstay is hanging on a thin theory of unwitting behavior's chain-reaction, its allure begins to dwindle, the desultory contrivance oversteps the original intention of "an accidental slice-of-life", the story is totally at the disposal of writer's wild and arbitrary imagination as long as the circle meets its end in the coda (not such a demanding request for one who is capable of imagining), which could be assessed as an artistic shortchange fails to meet the face value of a feature film, a concise short form is enough to spread this one-track mind precept.

There are no clear leads inasmuch as the bulky cast, so besides Tautou and Faudel's belated encounter, other threads never have their own closures, e.g. Eric Feldman's mendacious museum guard and Eric Savin's wavering husband, neither find their answers in their respective stores. Maybe it is what happens in real life, but as an entity, the loose-ends are despondent and incompetent. Luckily, the film should be merited for its variegated caricature of human behaviors, mostly are transient due to the repetitive structure, nevertheless the film entertains audiences in its down-to-earth earnestness and leaves us a wistful sigh only if fatalism could dominate the world, life would be much easier and simpler!

Anchors Aweigh

I will not thumb my nose's at the usually stock Hollywood musicals, not with a combo of Sinatra's mellow show-tunes, Kelly's choreographic moves and Grayson's soprano renditions. Although screenwriter Isobel Lennart does not care a damn of the plausibility in the storytelling, but if you can swallow that, ANCHORS AWEIGH might find its comfy niche in overwhelming its contemporary viewers with its blatantly gaily romance and a cornucopia of vaudevillian assortments.

An Oscar BEST PICTURE nominee (5 nominations and 1 win for George Stoll's music score), directed by versatile and prolific Hollywood journeyman George Sidney, my second film from his filmography after SCARAMOUCHE (1952, 6/10), ANCHORS AWEIGH runs approximate 140 minutes, collects an ever-high-octane Gene Kelly (it comes as a big surprise that he had earned only one Oscar nomination through his entire career, which is from this film), third-billed from the opening-credit, who however, splendidly embraces his efflorescence by spearheading as a multifaceted showman in transmitting his vigor and life-force into this otherwise average hedonism burlesque, the highlight surely is Kelly's duo dance with Disney's Jerry Mouse, a technique pioneers the animation-cum-live-action trend, and it is seamlessly dovetailed with utter originality, to which one can barely imagine how audiences could react during its premier over 70 years ago. And what's more relevant to present viewers, now we can realize from where the archetype of Jean Dujardin in THE ARTIST (2011, 8/10) comes and Kelly is much more competent.

Sinatra in his incipient thirties, willowy as ever, his character may be flat and dopey, once he sings, one just wonders how miraculous is his slender figure could hone up to a marvelous instrument and produce that voice! Almost the same can be applied for Grayson only if she could veil her obvious contempt every time being addressed as "Auntie Susan". Apart from the triad, among the supporting group is a genial Spanish conductor José Iturbi plays himself, his symphony of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 with a dozen of pianists is a plain grandstanding but also a virtuoso achievement beside the point. And if I haven't perused the credits, I can never suspect that the young boy is Dean Stockwell, his big screen debut, also for Pamela Britton, unfortunately she doesn't even has a name in the film and billed as the girl from Brooklyn.

L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours)

My only previous Assayas' approach is Maggie Cheung's Cannes BEST ACTRESS nabbing feature CLEAN (2004, 7/10), and for most Chinese media, Assayas seems to alway been in an ill-fated personage as Maggie's ex-husband. But his works matures splendidly with finesse and sobriety (from CLEAN to SUMMER HOURS), the latter resounds a similar pace of meditation and quietude as Hirokazu Koreeda's STILL WALKING (2008, 8/10), tackles with a slice of family life, with a contemplation towards the domestic heredity, globalized opportunism, alienated generations and art conservation.

In dealing with a sentimental demise of a bourgeoise matriarch, who resides in a suburban villa near Paris with all her uncle's art menagerie and his worthwhile sketching books (apparently he was a renowned painter himself and an unspeakable family secret), Assayas infills an indefatigable stamina to keep all the delicate matters in a civil restraint, the contradiction abounds among three siblings in regard to keep or sell the villa; and the proceedings of donating valuable art pieces has also been a bumpy road; for the elder son, he also has teenage children to worry about, and last but not the least, his abiding remembrance of the past is the most poignant blow to one who can fit into his shoes under the circumstances.

The show has never been slid into a thespians' melodrama notwithstanding the fact that its indulgence of a top-billing Gallic cast, a blonde Binoche incarnates a very light-touch casualness as the metropolitan daughter, living in USA and dedicates herself more in bringing the work of art abroad for the international exposure; Renier, the younger son, finds both an opportunity in settling down in China and an exigent situation in which the profit of selling the villa couldn't come as timely as possible. While these two are soon-to-be-goners, without a pinch yearning for their homeland, the liability all falls on the elder brother (Berling), whose true-to-life embodiment of his character anchors the film's backbone in a concrete formality, it is a prickly situation will come about to anyone eventually. Edith Scob, as the deceased mother, whose first 30-minutes appearance contrives to establish herself as an indomitable shadow encroached by the past, when she is gone, something else will be taken with her together and forever, Scob is pitch perfect in her role's demanding of the physical infirmity, an unswerving mind of knowing her time is up and the duty as a bequeather.

I have not conceal my preference to this quiet, reflective lifelike imitation than other more grandstanding razzle-dazzle, it is a simple film with a concise message delivered eloquently by the mastery of Assayas who auspiciously shoulders on the privilege of an auteur not only in the French terrain, but also as an international landmark, like many of his precedent compatriots.

A Christmas Story

Surprised to see this film listed among Top 250 films of IMDb years ago (a glory will not return considering it has been outranked by other newcomers), but still it is an unthinkable feat since family-slewed holiday season comedies has rarely been able to manage on that prestigious list, less to mention it is from a Tinseltown hack, the late director Bob Clark.

Now I finally have watched it with BluRay calibre, what can I say? It is a damn good family boon, a bona-fide Christmas film outshines all its contemporary duds.

Set in 1940s, an ordinary American family, Ralphie is a schoolboy lives with his parents and a younger brother Randy, all he wants for the approaching Christmas is a BB gun which every adult considers it is dangerous since it will shoot your eyes out! (An utter antithesis of what I wanted when I was that age, of course, not for Christmas, for Spring Festival instead). So the film minutely recollects what has happened during this unforgettable Yuletide by a congenial voiceover from Ralphie in his adulthood, the mischiefs at the school and at home, all from Ralphie's viewpoint, which perfectly aligns with the whimsical nature of a kid's chimera.

Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin makes such a dynamic onscreen duo as the cool mother and the naff father (McGavin is too old to be their old man, a grandfather should be more appropriate though). What happens in the family (a piggy-imitation incentive on the dining table, the leg-shape lamp accident, the icicle misconduct, and the f-word punishment etc.) radiates great affinity towards its viewers since it is not overtly soliciting for instant laughters, rather it stays with its audiences and brings ripple effects to everyone's own memory of their most memorable holidays in childhood. Peter Billingsley, a bespectacled precocious over-thinker, does offset the abundance of epidemic smart-alecks among recent child-performances. Tedde Moore, as Ralphie's schoolteacher, whose deadpan sanctimoniousness satires the traumatizing condescendence on the nose, personally I have met quite a few in my school days. Other skits such as Peter and the wolf parody, the impatient Santa Claus with his fiendish elves in the mall, and the tongue-stuck-on-the-ice prank, all goes well without hyperbole. Bob Clark may not be a great filmmaker, and A CHRISTMAS STORY doesn't possess any unique talking point among cinephiles, but with a retrospective nostalgia, it certainly occupies a snug spot among many people's guilty-pleasure bracket.

La Caza (The Hunt)

Carlos Saura's third feature LA CAZA won him a BEST DIRECTOR Silver Berlin Bear that year at the age of 34 (a triumph he would duplicate in 1968 with his next project PEPPERMINT FRAPPE and a final Golden Berlin Bear winning in 1981 for FAST, FAST), which is quite a prescient gesture then, Saura has a comparatively prolific career, even today, this reverend octogenarian is still making his next project. LA CAZA is only my second Saura's entry, after the soul-pulverizing domestic tale RAISE RAVENS (1976, 9/10), this time he was 10 years younger, vigorously sets up a male-predominant set-to among three old chaps in a stark hunting party, an eleventh-hour outburst bookends a weathered generation's disaffection and angst, it is an unpolished bravura to pull the trigger in such a reckless manner, but no one would deny the sleight of hand of cinematography (the late DP Luis Cuadrado) and how Saura patiently paves the way for its drama layers and how he would detonate the time-bomb with eloquent narrative arc.

The film devices a plain story about 3 old friends (a fourth partaker is one friend's young brother-in-law) reunite for a rabbit-hunting expedition in the rural hillside, soon their friendship would be tested under the entanglement of money problem, peer contempt and chronic discontent, starts with a premonition of one of them cannot find a first aid kit for his wounded finger.

Before the open-space shooting, they converse from hunting rabbits to man-hunting, from natural law's priority to piranhas' metaphor for hoi polloi, one who is familiar with that particular period of Spanish history may find access to many allusions here. The actual shooting is all fly-on-the-wall, with a dozen of poor critters being mercilessly put under the camera then waits for a headshot (in the latter half, including a devoted ferret), animal activists will go berserk (not to mention skinning the carcass), the bestiality simmering underneath all the veneer and guises is appalling and guns does facilitate the trigger-happy group.

Voiceover and close-ups are two frequent instruments punctiliously deployed here, the alternatively intensive and exotic score is a obliging company with the film's well-controlled rhythm, the cast is fittingly in working order, and Gutierrez Caba's fresh handsomeness is the vestigial innocence left among adulthood, at least we can still have faith until it gets tainted by the consumption of the malignancy, envy, opportunism and discrimination, I hope Saura agrees with me this time.

Cactus Flower

The most newsworthy of this preposterous comedy is Goldie Hawn's Oscar coronation (BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS) for her first major role in the showbiz, quite a fluke and what would be more unrealistic is that her daughter Kate Hudson would nearly rehash the path in ALMOST FAMOUS (2000, 8/10). Thanks god this didn't happen.

It is a three-way story, so Hawn is arguably a leading player in the game, for contemporary audience, the script is more-or-less the same of Sandler-Aniston's successful potboiler, JUST GO WITH IT (2011), no rating since I have been unable to finish that film in one piece (although I do love Rachel and tempted by Nicole's cameo). Matthau, a single and swinging dentist in New York, asks his reliable nurse (Bergman) to act as his soon-to-be-divorced wife since he is going to marry the ingénue (Hawn) he is besotted with (and vice versa), the only stumbling block is a white lie that he pretends to be a married man in front of Hawn, so out of salving the guilty of being a home-wrecker, Hawn demands to meet Matthau's wife and ascertain her future is in good condition, only by then they will proceed the matrimony. Sounds like a wide-eyed tantrum to make-believe life is still wonderful and she is still a good girl will go to heaven. Actually she is, the only trouble-maker is Matthau himself, it is his weakness of predisposing himself with a harm-cum-responsibility free pass to gain carnal knowledge which comically backfires and he will find out who is the essential significant other for him.

The film also heralds Bergman's return to America after her ousting in European land, at the age of 54, she demonstrates what an ageless beauty she is, her metamorphosis from a prim-and-proper old maiden to a liberated pleasure-seeker commandeers the most gratifying empathy and jubilation from the film, also a self-emancipation to her more secular and approachable persona than her usual foreign, distant, icy effigy. Bergman's comic turn offers great pleasure, so is the ever-congenial Matthau, effortlessly makes viewers forgive his character's frailty, and show no malapropos either pairs with Bergman or Hawn, he is not your usual prince-charming, but one just feel no choler nor envies to see him conquer both one-of-a-kind beauties.

Shamefully to say this is my first Hawn's film, grandma haven't done anything for more than a decade, she is a paragon of Hollywood blonde ambition, doe-eyed, the-girl-next-door closeness, her star-quality pops out automatically whenever the camera catches her, and director Gene Saks never skimps to give her extra glamour by extending her part out of the dumb-blonde sexy-exploitation (I'm not referring to you, Brooklyn Decker), her interplay with the very kissable Rick Lenz (a shorter young James Stewart doppelganger) bears out she is much of a MAN-nipulator than a dim gold-digger.

The ending twist strikes as a niggle for me since why everything "must" get back to the age-wise rightness, the audacious transform of Bergman only blossoms as a gratuitous payoff of years-long unrequited affection, and the suicidal-inclined Hawn can just simply thumb her nose at her lover and get over with it by calling on her next prey, it is a screenwriter's lethargy. Also I'm fully against killing animals for their fur!

Dersu Uzala
Dersu Uzala(1975)

This is one world-class piece of work desperately in the waiting line for a BluRay revamp, watched this Kurosawa's Soviet Union film in DVD format, the quality is discouraging, but the film speaks for itself in shedding bells and whistles and homing in on a camaraderie between a Soviet military explorer and a seasoned local hunter among the bleak Ussuri inhospitable region.

Storyline-aside, it is another Kurosawa's awesome visual spectacle, a tremendous field shooting endeavor, epitomizes by the sun-moon co-existence with solemn placidness, furthermore, it is a hymn to mother nature, Dersu personifies as the harmonious co-habitant of the mighty wilderness, a sublime soul with well-versed survival skills, on the contrary to my recent watched documentary TOUCHING THE VOID (2003, 8/10), DERSU UZALA owns a purer and more admirable prospect, instead of conquering the insurmountable to chase a spur of glory and invincibility, it is far more intrepid and unpretentious to be a part of it with reverence and be respectful to its law and act, in addition to its indefatigable undertone against industrialized modernism (it is the brand-new rifle, a token of friendship, actually wreaks the somber demise of Dersu).

Strictly speaking, there is merely two characters in the film, Dersu (Munzuk) and the Russian Captain (Solomin), a bond is tenably formed through their expedition in the wild, from lush jungle to walking-on-the-thin-ice frozen river, the life-saving bravado during a squalling night when they lost their track on a snow land or a torrent peril, Kurosawa moulds a great range of topography with taut excitement where it is required. The character study of Dersu also is been executed through the observation and the interaction from Captain (viewers' proxy), who is enthralled by Dersu's simple yet ethereal nature, a rare bird may or may not be extinct now. The dual-acting from Munzuk and Solomin is the fruit of naturalistic emancipation and unassuming engagement.

Also a memorable presence is Isaak Shvarts's accompanying score segues from lithe to menacing, eerie to sonorous, with Russian folklore and shanty as well.

Being a Chinese, I cannot avoid mentioning the sensitive timing (after China and Japan's rapprochement in 1972 and China and Soviet Union's dispute in 1969) of the film-making, which prompted an accusation from Chinese government concerns a so-called political libel on Chinese people, mainly by vilifying Hunhutsi (which literally means red beard in Mandarin) as the villain and the nature-balance defier. But honestly, this episode is largely overstated since there is no direct confrontation at all in the film, at least for my compatriots, don't let this smokescreen blinds your eyes, DERSU UZALA is a spirited ethnological oeuvre could inspire whoever has a chance to watch it, preferably on a big screen or at least a BluRay edition.

Bringing Up Baby

By design-of-nature and my environment of upbringing, I incline to keep a sensible mind with regard of viewing films, so when a screwball comedy goes it its extreme with uper-rapid pace and madcap characters, it is pretty understandable why initially this Howard Hawks film bombed tragically by its acceptance both commercially and critic-wisely, albeit Grant and Hepburn's dedicative endeavor, a well-crafted film script and its astonishing achievement of the animal (a leopard and a dog) performance (credits to their trainers as well). But now generally hailed as a paragon comedy by consensus, I wonder maybe I was born in a wrong era. I am not saying I dislike the film, it is a tongue-in-cheek urban tale which generates unsolicited laughters abound, but the off-putting disposition of Hepburn's Susan does impede me from fully appreciating this work.

The story is a straight arrow zoology professor David (Grant) meets a scatterbrain wealthy girl Susan, who is inexplicably smitten with him, they first met in a golf field and without any context, once Susan sets her eyes on him, she is playing all the manipulative tricks to keep David from getting married and as stereotyped as it sounds, after a succession of zany slapsticks (mainly concerns finding a pet leopard and a barking dog), the two prove they really deserve each other.

Grant is quite proficient in his usual orbit of a harmless gentleman with a double chin, plagued by laughter-induced mishaps when he is die hard trying to procure a million dollar donation for his museum, inconveniently the benefactor turns out to be Susan's auntie (Robson). Hepburn, never exemplifies herself as an excellent comedian, makes a great effort to match Grant's comic timing with her hotheaded whimsy, but the result is rather a hyperbole than a substantial stretch. Supporting players are basically expendable, Charles Ruggles' hunting-drivel-talking leopard-growl-mimicking dinner guest is the essence of what a bore a bourgeois boffin could be, and for whom we should all weep.

Hawks manages to show off some camera artifices to shot the scenes between human cast and the carnivore feline, it is still magically done although we all witnessed the CGI tiger in LIFE OF PI (2012, 10/10) with awe and amazement, I suggest a remake with swapped sex, a well-heeled young man possessed with a priggish female zoologist, I doubt anyone could take the challenge, sex equality is still a halfway deal, and it goes without saying there will be a slew of CGI beasts around them.

Touching the Void

This highly-praised documentary from Scottish director Kevin Macdonald (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND 2006, 8/10, STATE OF PLAY 2009, 6/10), spunkily tackles the most inconceivable survival story in the mountaineering history, narrated by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates in propria persona of their perilous conquest to the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985, while faithfully re-enacts what had happened during the lengthy 168 hours.

It is such an incredible and telling story which could eclipses Danny Boyle's 127 HOURS (2010, 8/10), Joe's destiny is as much indebted to his heaven-sent luck as his professional surviving skills and the tenacious willpower of staying alive. The talking-ahead forthrightness from Joe and Simon delineates their adventure in detailed nuance, carefully selected words without any bells and whistles, instantly brings audiences to the locale, we are fairly certain it is a mission impossible to do the copy-cat climbing and abseiling since it is unimaginable to transport a team of crew to accomplish such a chimera, still team Macdonald exerts formidable effort to show us what kind of beast Siula Grande is, a reverential task has been adroitly done and salute to the cameramen, two actors (Mackey and Aaron) and stunts.

The natural immenseness, the icy whiteness and the fearsome precipices are soul-engulfing, and the forlornness is overpowering even we all know they all outlive the unthinkable misadventure (I keep imagining in the end of the film, Macdonald would show us a frontal shot of Joe with one leg only or a prosthetic leg). Myself is never an extreme-sports advocate, putting one's own life in jeopardy to pursue some kind of spiritual catharsis or mental orgasm (maybe physically as well) has never been on my agenda, notwithstanding which, the film fortuitously excels its reassuring ode of human strength and reaches a soul-searching incisiveness for every viewer to reflect on our regards of nature and life. When curiosity being satisfied, the film still imprints its indelible mark on the ectoplasm level, great work indeed!

The film's 106 minutes running time seems rather short to me, when Joe finally reunites with Simon, the film also soon ends with succinct captions indicating their later life, which inevitably makes me wonder what is their rumination of that accident after the heaven-or-hell experience, I wish the film would be a bit longer to tap into that aspect, it would render us some revelation on a more humanized surface, then it would be an impeccable documentary feature for me. But anyway the film is the new entry of my top 10 BEST PICTURE in 2003, bravo!

The Great Gatsby

Watched this topical Baz Luhrmann extravaganza in a plain 2D version, adapted from a world-famous classic, the daunting comparison is predestined, lucky me for being completely oblivious of the original novel and its earlier cinema adaption, so I feel privileged to take my pleasure from viewing this film without being nettled by any premeditated notions whatsoever, blessing the ignorance!

Zero expectation does assuage the nitpicking impulse, this period film establishes its unparalleled visual spectacle which its additional charge of a 3D fee could be considerably goaded, it has been the first time I wish I could watched it with the unease gizmo since INCEPTION (2010, 9/10). The upbeat Hip-Hop infused party music and retro-induced melancholiac strains (now I can not get Lana Del Rey's YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL out of my mind) is another novelty rarely being presented in a period drama, Luhrmann again victoriously testifies himself is the maestro of contemporary cinema's flamboyance and garishness (without any pejorative overtone).

The long-time-no-see former Spidey Tobey Maguire (who is still able to pass off as a twenty-some due to his perpetual baby-face) is the narrator of an ill-fated love story, and surprisingly he does occupy such a lengthy screen time, even outstays DiCaprio's Gatsby. He is the observer, the bystander and a useful buffer between Gatsby and Daisy, Luhrmann and his co-writer Craig Pearce intentionally sacrifice his personal life (no relationship entanglement at all) to intensify his unspeakable admiration towards Gatsby (a bromance in the period time?), he is the one who is captivated by Gatsby's beguiling friendship, his grandstanding lifestyle and the money to sustain all these grandiosity and opulence. Maguire is impeccable as a wide-eyed third wheel, a surviver who is destined to tell the tale.

Then comes the problematic couple, Gatsby and Daisy, both being introduced under the heightened and pompous settings, Mulligan's Daisy is first seen by her slender legs swinging with curtains fluttering around, a spoiled flapper subordinated by male chauvinism (who sincerely hope her young daughter would be a fool since it is the perfect niche for a girl). Gatsby, whose front officially being spotlighted during the lavish party, with tender golden light lingers much longer than it should be, DiCaprio's over-familiar persona almost prompts me into laughter. Both thespians are impassioned with the best they can offer, their first meeting in the film is a marvelous romantic gambit, and Baz still gets it!

I must be too optimistic to say DiCaprio may stand a chance to win over Oscar's attention this time, his red-faced yelling outburst during the conflict is his Oscar-bait, but makes me squirm a bit, since it is his stock antics. For Mulligan, her role has an innate defect for being the collateral culprit of the denouement, so the misogynous judgement aside, Mulligan is praiseworthy in balancing the morally equivocal personality with her dainty style. My only cast gripe is the usually-outstanding Edgerton, as Daisy's gentrified husband Tom, Edgerton is too vulgar in physique and looks like a nouveau-riche doesn't tally with the chic surroundings.

A few technical glitches, the editing is a shade too fast in the first half, noticeably during the happy-moment sequence of the reunion, the glitz does hurt my eyes. Then near the end, the caption-floating of Fitzgerald's text is a lame maneuver, we all know there are too many to tell in the book, however poetic it is, a more subtle approach is recommended.

It is an over-romanticized saga, the final telephone call good-heartedly bookends it, even facing the demise, at least a tinge of warmth manages to run through our senses, one may call it over sentimental, others may refer it as poetic license, all in all, I think it is worth your ticket, and I cannot believe I would say that, even in the despised 3D form.

The King of Comedy

Scorsese and De Niro's less appreciated opus, a box-office dead-on-arrival upon its release, after RAGING BULL (1980, 8/10), Scorsese decisively contemplated to change the lane from the bloodbath sport-drama fest, so it comes this black comedy, an unsung maniac-opportunist-comedian Rupert Pupkin (De Niro), disillusioned by his hankering friendship with the on-the-job talk show host Jerry Langford (Lewis), colludes with the radical Jerry fanatic Masha (Bernhard), they kidnap him and extort the show runner to allot ten minutes for Rupert to perform his monologue on TV, and unlike any other plans usually go awry in order to leave room for twists, Scorsese and writer Paul D. Zimmerman instrument an ambiguous comeuppance thanks to the film's shrewd amalgam of reality and hallucination.

As a pungent satire to the instant showbiz fame and the celebrity's overwrought mental condition with the autograph hounds and devout stalkers, the film is an eloquent body of work in manipulating its viewer's empathetic oscillation between Pupkin and Langford, for instance, on the one hand, I feel repellent towards Jerry's hubris and snootiness (his deadly oomph towards women is something I could never understand, what a great job for Bernhard to deliver the madness in front of such a distasteful sine qua non), on the other hand, when put myself in his shoes, the nettlesome Pupkin is a parasite-like cipher one instinctively despises. The same could be transposed with Pupkin, one moment you regard him as a deadbeat chatterbox by badgering Jerry, next scene you feel sorry for him because we know Jerry will shatter his dreams sooner or later, and when that dramatic moment eventually happens, the interplay among Pupkin, Jerry and Rita (Pupkin's love interest played by De Niro's then-wife Abbott) is spontaneous, awkwardly cringing and impeccably acted.

De Niro has unwaveringly forsaken his acting skill since his glorious years (70s to 80s), a committed incarnation of a stand-up comedian in his hard-earned live stint, but an overall, his comedian bent may be not as hyped as he claims, at least, not ground-breaking enough to be at a king's level, thus making the ending resound with a more cynically suspicious irony. De Niro's methodological strenuousness seems to be markedly discordant with Lewis' more naturalistic instinct-driven skill, which actually is an opportune win-win situation both for the comic vein and for the actors, they are ranking high in my respective categories. Also Bernhard is spectacular in her nut's sickly possessiveness despite of her less-limned backstory, maybe she is a much qualified comedian than her pal.

An unfeigned delight to watch this film and to revere more towards Mr. Scorsese, whose all-purpose greatness is an unerring beacon to guide his disciples and an insatiable lure to his ceaseless fan club recruits.


Haven't done any homework when I was stumbling across my first Tati's film, and never imagined a film could be made in this way, a legitimate horizon-widener of film-making.

The film commences in its befuddling narrative-void montages of variegated characters in the Paris airport of the vintage time, later, follows a group of American housewives-tourists embarks on their city route, first stop is a futuristic modern edifice of an Expo-esque site for a visit, while incorporating Monsieur Hulot (Tati himself), a well-mannered old man who keeps bypassing the man whom he supposedly should meet. After a short stopover at his upstart friend's newly-purchased home, Monsieur Hulot fortuitously bumps into the guy he had been looking for all day during a rubberneckers' gathering. The subsequent location resides in a nearly-furbished restaurant with a melange of patrons and staff (Monsieur Hulot and the American tourists included), the 45-minutes main course of all-inclusive gags, bloopers, transforms a hoity-toity eating place to a chaotic shindig, a sensible mockery and revelry of the vagaries of our humdrum activities. The film finishes with the tourists' return to the airport in the dusk light, and Monsieur Hulot's goodbye keepsake to one of the elegant American lady (Dennek), a silk kerchief, bespeaks the epitome of the metropolitan city.

Basically, the film flouts any narrative-driven urges to underpin a normal feature film, the first half, viewers are being induced of an impression amounts to a loitering in a museum, with gigantic visual installations, emancipate a post-modern surrealism through the architectures, interior designs and costumes. The mirror-reflection antics have been ingeniously imposed many times to highlight several landmarks of Paris, the interlude of a transparent home design with minimalistic accessories is still avant-garde 45 years after.

The restaurant bulk is more lively (both visually and aurally), a masterly farce encompasses minute boo-boos with miscellaneous players, every and each is done with a light touch but effectively strikes a chord with its resourceful wits and humor, and for certain, multiple watching is a must to extensively sense the virtuosity of all the arrangements, slapsticks and the esprit de corps, it is also the dramatic personae's playtime, in spite of that each and every one is bit part, counting Monsieur Hulot.

Near the end, Tati culminates his love letter to Paris with a carousel-alike orchestration of vehicles lumbering around a circular parterre, an innovative amusement park metaphor renders immense pleasure through Tati's mojo.

The film cost Tati 10 years in debt due to its commercial failure, with only 5 films made through his time, sadly it is a genius filmmaker and comedian who is way ahead of his time and should have been appreciated more. PLAYTIME is a marvelous feat, I cannot say if it is the case of Tati's other oeuvre since I'm plain a beginner in the territory, and it shines immaculately in the BluRay disc, I wonder it would be a perfect option to be enjoyed even you just leave it play in the background, each time you glance it, you will discover little gems there, profoundly witty or optically stimulating.

Big Trouble in Little China

A Hollywood pastiche of Hong Kong kung-fu sensation in the 1980s, which seems to be out of topicality now, directed by John Carpenter (seriously, who could predict my first entry of Carpenter's canon comes overdue thus far). But as a Chinese, soused in the over-familiar genre throughout my childhood, this Chinatown kung-fu ragbag is no place near a deferential triumph (a B movie cult status maybe) even under the pristine BluRay calibre, a fair blurb is that it is pretty fun to watch for a first-timer only.

Carpenter's regular Kurt Russell is the sinewy truck-driver, a gormless Good Samaritan, being embroiled into an eye-opening underworld teeming with Chinese necromancy, hideous critters and supernormal kung-fu masters (btw, no Chinese knows anything about Lo Pan and Ding Dai, completely a concoction without any reference or so ever), and what he gets? A machine gun whose only use is to eliminate two-bits minions and a crush on the blonde lawyer (Cattrall in her prime year). The western-oriental clash doesn't work out successfully (white man has the blonde and his Chinese sidekick has his own oriental beauty, that kind of drivel etc.) one could replace its Chinese elements with any gangster clan with a grisly ghost's resurrection into flesh (why trouble being a mortal if you are an immortal?) through marrying girls with green eyes (or contact lens).

The modus operandi of manufacturing an ancient Chinese looking is a big plus, all tawdry but resplendent, and destines to be destroyed by our hero and his troupe, also the makeup technique is cutting-edge (James Hong's double identities both require a makeover shift).

While the storyline is evasive about any query details, we never get a hold of what is the undead's probable explanation of his existence except that he is an oriental mythology, so don't ask, just watch the little mysterious thing called "magic". The cast is basically a throwaway to make the story workable, James Hong's Lo Pan and his three guardians are deadpan comical and undeservedly expendable, by a preening introduction near the beginning, their payoff is too hasty to respect or digest for the sake of the potboiler heroism, such a top-heavy fecklessness.

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA certainly disqualifies itself as a Carpenter's must-see, and its family-friendly appeal also curtains Carpenter's novelty and creativity (save the surviving beast in the coda), the adventure is far from satisfactory and the mocking action sequences justly jibe with its own time, the horrible 1980s.


I have been eschewing horror films for quite a long time, not my cup of tea to be constantly under the fusillade of twisted images of supernormal creatures and the menacing sound effects antedated by portentous background scores, while trying to squeeze any sort of excitement and satisfaction from it (or just a natural aging process). But MAMA, outsmarts a myriad of its sort by casting Jessica Chastain as its sadistic prey, so when I got the BluRay disc, it is not easy to say no to it, not when Chastain wears a Gothic makeup.

THE ORPHANAGE (2007, 8/10), which also has a Spanish pedigree, has left an indelible impression on my memory and its credo of a mother's salvation can be easily transplanted into MAMA, only this time the mother is a gawky ghost, thus, Chastain's character, initially a childless bass player in a rock band, has to undergone the transference of her own mother nature to fight for the girls, it is a tug-of-war of two mothers (Coster-Waldau's proxy-father figure as one can anticipate, would have to sidestep aside to leave enough space for the maternal battle, he would be in the hospital since the half-way through and never returns home to aid his girlfriend even when he recovers and completely senses the spooky thing is happening with the two girls, instead, he would go directly to the haunted cabana, at least give your girlfriend a head's up, man!). It is sufficient to say there are nothing too ground-breaking MAMA brings to its mother genre, the scares and twists are both predictable and fully-informed ahead, and a certain amount of casualty among supporting players is indispensable (and overused).

What's quite impressive is the ingenious shooting prowess from Muschietti and DP Antonio Riestra, for example, during Coster-Waldau's hospital stint, a semi-long shot at their home, in a fixed gaze, implies Mama's existence in the house by disinterestedly concocting all 3 extant characters in one frame while a fourth one is off-camera and does the interaction. Another one comes within the spine-tingling motion, a tracking close-up focus on the elder girl until she is locked outside the door when Mama is trailing both girls. Also the sepia and over-saturated flash-back takes are smartly interpolated, and the shots from a camera in the darkness is not a new invention but pay their dues by the in-the-blink-of-an-eye fright (poor doctor!).

Chastain shoulders on a very understated development from a punk bassist to a surrogate mother, Muschietti has a good sense of reining the holistic haunting aura instead let it slip into a drama competition (although if one has Chastain, he should not squander the opportunity). Megan Charpentier, plays the elder sister of the two, whose transition is the most telling proof of a mother's love, the ending is redolent of THE FORGOTTEN (2004, 5/10), and the motherly clasp always win!

MAMA, expanded from Muschietti's own short film, is a qualified scare-fest, but one advise should be alarmed to all the makers, whatever gristly creature you are contriving, if it appears continuously on screen for more than 5 minutes, the terror efficacy will be dampened no matter how unsightly it is, so play your trumps parsimoniously is a wiser option if your intention is to scare audiences out of their wits.


What an intense drama about psychological abuse, and implants the virulent dual-murders, one from the past and another is ongoing, one is fulfilled and the other is up in the air, George Cukor (from MY FAIR LADY 1964, 6/10; A STAR IS BORN 1954, 8/10 and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY 1940, 8/10) blindsided me with his own creation of film noir, and conducts Boyer and Bergman's career-best performances.

An unsolved crime at the beginning, the film drops from a whodunit detective story rather early, after the a short spell of foreign sojourn (Lake Como, where else would be more romantic?), the newly-weds returns to London, for Paula (Bergman), the scar dooms to be lifted open and the bare wound is even more deleterious than she could ever imagine. Adapted from Patrick Hamilton's play "ANGEL STREET", the film predominantly is a two-hander between Paula and Gregory (Boyer), and about how Gregory punctiliously and effectively manipulates and impairs Paula's mental state, he ensnares Paulo into a self-doubt of her sanity (the very first outing in London is to visit the torture chamber, no wonder all the Museums of Torture are prevailing in the touristic attractions here in Europe), insulating her from meeting other people, trapped her in the mansion and slowly yet mercilessly infuses all the hallucinogenic chicanery to further damage her flimsy nerve, which includes the titular gaslight and it also serves as a signpost of his surreptitious whereabouts every night.

Boyer is quite extraordinary in expressing venom under his high-and-mighty politeness, frowning and pouting, his devilish complexion enlivens the film's watchability even at its corniest part, a bestial man indeed, but a tour-de-force exemplar of his kind. Bergman, although is the hapless victim who is unwittingly sleeping with the enemy, very anti-femme-fatale indeed, manages to deliver a visceral transition of Paula's trauma, which certainly out of her usual graceful and elegant comfort zone, and albeit her Nordic height, it is such a stretch for her to reveal her female vulnerability without any reservation. She got her first Oscar for the film, I'm now wavering in choosing my pick between her and Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder's noir paradigm DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944, 8/10).

A third-billed Joseph Cotten is the cardboard detective eventually will be the hero, and Dame May Whitty, the garrulous busybody, appears sporadically in case she overstays her welcome. The film is also Angela Lansbury's film debut, at the age of 17 during the shoot, the young flighty maid might only be a pawn in the plot, but a rather singular boldness and an Oscar nomination presages her reverend orbit as one of the most versatile character-actress in the Hollywood history.

Overall, the film is a highly-recommendable piece of psychological study, shot in minimal bleakness (even the gala concert is intentionally shortened) with solemn and choppy original score from Bronislau Kaper. From a modern-day POV, one might find Paula is a stereotyped exploitation about how women usually are portrayed in the yesteryear, which seems out of topicality now (not domestic violence, just the showcase of female's utter dependence and extreme delicacy), so, it might undermine the reception from the younger generation, but anyway, at least, a big bravo to Bergman and Boyer.

Side Effects
Side Effects(2013)

A recent cinema-going of SIDE EFFECTS, hyped as Soderbergh's last theatrical release picture (what's the hell with the BEHIND THE CANDELABRA's Cannes screening?), it unites 3 Soderbergh's regulars with a fresh new leading lady Rooney Mara, grapples with a suspicious somnambulistic murder case under the side effects of prescribed drug influence.

Opening with a PSYCHO-tribute craning-and-tracking shot outside a residential building, patiently zooms in on one of the monotonous windows and reveals the blood stain left on the carpet (without notifying neither the perpetrator nor the victim), then jumps back to a 3-months-earlier flashback, Soderbergh certainly has his artistry in his stylish camerawork, and equally superb in dragging his audiences into the hazy mind state of Mara's character, and keeps it captivating and seething with uncertainty and angst, blurs the boundary between truth and lies, steers its sharp point bluntly towards the pharmaceutical industry.

Up until then, all the suspenses have been fully elicited, one can sense there is something fishy about the case, and the film shunts to another direction, with a fast pace of elucidation the crime hidden behind, a shopworn procedure but it is requisite for pandering to solve all the question marks inside viewers mind, the scheme our wronged shrink to turn both sides against each other is amateurishly exercised, which could be screenwriter Scott Z. Burns's incapability to round out the story or Soderbergh is never a talented story-teller, if only the twist had been more scrupulously sanded down and the perpetrators' motive and interplay (say, the insider trading part) should be more well-founded, even it finally reaches a feel good ending for the audience, the aftertaste is not totally satisfactory.

Anyhow the film owns a killer cast (except someone who really should learn from Julianne Moore in CHLOE 2009, 7/10 how to kiss a girl), Rooney Mara has a unique distanced coolness in her blood which distinguishes her from the usual Hollywood cloyingness, and it does benefit her for meatier (especially with those have ambiguous attributes) offers and she is on her mettle in the film, versatile between her conflicting facets during the different phases. Jude Law, recollects his leading-man-ship in the film, a pro-medicine shrink with a sleuth acuity, also receive a welcome back, a tailor-made character, and he fits it with such ease. Channing Tatum sidesteps from the limelight this time whereas his Mr. Nice Guy image has been further amplified this time, don't know it is a good thing or not.

If this is Soderbergh's swan song (or penultimate one), it doesn't forebode well since it is an audience-courting film rather than his own auteur-seeking venture, if not, I will keep high hopes in his next projects (even if it means a long hiatus).

The Hireling
The Hireling(1973)

The 1973 Palme d'Or winner (a tie with SCARECROW, 1973), a British film directed by Alan Bridges and adapted from L.P. Hartley's novel, screen-scripted by Wolf Mankowitz, is quite a curio to find, stars Sarah Miles and Robert Shaw as an odd pair, the story takes place at rural England after WWI, it is an acrimonious tirade towards British hierarchical underbelly and is spiced up by the qualified performances from two leads, Miles' innate fragility and gullible naivety finds a quite befitting rhythm with Shaw's rough edge and macho dominance (also Peter Egan's nob Captain is graphically delineated with a light touch), despite the fact that the film is somewhat a lukewarm achievement.

Miles is Lady Franklin, an upper-class new widow suffers from the post-trauma of her bereavement, anew from convalescence, she is mentally hurdled to resume her social life and raring to find someone who she could talk to, when she meets her new chauffeur Ledbetter (Shaw), who just initiates his own private rent business, Lady Franklin is clearly not that kind of clever woman of his tier, she befriends with him and it's not another DRIVING MISS DAISY (1989, 8/10) well-intentioned (racial) class-defying friendship crowd-pleaser, things will turn ugly as Ledbetter's escalating jealousy and infatuation towards Lady Franklin grows, which will end up with a clumsy self-destructive finale driven by indignant impulse (he doesn't have the luck and handsomeness which befits the romantic credentials in DOWNTOWN ABBEY).

It is again a glum, inclement England, the lamenting dirge belts out along the first half of the film, Lady Franklin, bears a frail delicacy and her indecisive nerve of "getting the knack" to continue her life in the countryside getaway, bespeaks a damsel-in-mistress desperate for a savior (her ill-tempered, apathetic and self-centered mother, Elizabeth Sellars brings the role point-blank accuracy, for sure is more of a nuisance than a comfort here), so Ledbetter, who is professional and pretty sentient of their social disparity at first, would slowly capitulate to Lady Franklin's daring openness and closeness, and mistakes it as a kind of mutual affection (reaches to the pinnacle when he receives a helluva bunch of money from her to save his bogus financial mire), for Lady Franklin, she is much obliging to give the dole as it is a sort of compensation towards Ledbetter's optimum services and a relief to her own conscience (an upper class privilege) as well, money is her final offer, not love, of which we onlookers are all fully aware but not Ledbetter, in his eyes, it is a signal of devotion, an illusion while kindness mis-conceited as the flame of desire, especially when the benefactor is from a higher-up echelon, naturally the delusion has to be unsparingly shattered, it is the perpetual tragedy resides within the classes between "sanctimonious" upstairs and "covetous" downstairs. Like Shelton Cooper from THE BIG BANG THEORY rightfully teases "the upstairs should never eat with downstairs, it will only give them a false hope of the life they would never be involved", which I'm paraphrasing here.

With all respect to the team effort, THE HIRELING doesn't ring true as a prestigious Palme d'Or champion, it is nothing but a solid period feature carries a powder peg to indict the tenacious scourge, and eventually misfired.

Law of Desire

It could be a perfect double bill with Almodovar's own BAD EDUCATION (2004, 8/10), LAW OF DESIRE is his seventh feature film and has a plucky vein of a forthright attitude towards homosexuality and challenges an unconventional yarn of a besotted maniac-suitor's (Banderas) incorrigible fixation of our protagonist, a successful film director Pablo (Poncela), that kind of creepy yet deeply-devoting ardor could instantaneously scare away the recipient and devour one's own, but not like other similar-themed films tackles on a thriller angle, this film has (unexpectedly) romanticized the purified affection as a rarefied empathy, and succumbs to its self-immolated culmination out of the left field.

Meanwhile, the film also painstakingly limns the life of Pablo's sister Tina (Maura), a ham actress, whose outré past will be divulged later in the film to a shocking value with comical casualness thanks to an amnesiac twist, and she carries a paralleled weight which includes a maternal bond with her niece Ada (Velasco).

From what one may expect from Almodovar, the film is less tawdry or garish with its color element, still an over-par indulgence though, LAW OF DESIRE is cluttered with saccharine love letters, explicit homoerotic scenes, tackling with touchy issues like possessiveness, promiscuity, incest, transsexual, drug abuse and a murder case, with innuendos about priesthood sex scandal, also interpolating a monologue play about a distressed woman named Laura P (starts and ends with a melancholic delivery of "NE ME QUITTE PAS"). It is a fairly self-boosting piece of work, Almodovar always know how to infuse comedic occurrence into his well-drafted plot, even against a harrowing backbone.

As Almodovar's early muse, Maura owns her dominance of the film, the water-spurting on a hot summer night, the rendition of Laura P, the anger and indignity of exposing her veiled past and a face-to-face confession, magnificently dazzling and plain impressive. His male muse, Banderas, has a strapping figure and oozes all the fervor for the man of his life, gritty and arresting. By comparison, leading man Poncela may recede under the guise of a so-so performance, his dearth of personal charisma might not live up to sustain the story in a plausible manner, but his queer bearing is well-presented here. As usual, there are distinctive side characters galore, Velasco proves herself as a blossoming talent and Bibiana Fernández has a short but intensive spell as her negligent mother.

Speaking for myself, Almodovor's canon is always a safe haven, and this one has all his trappings all over the place, and it is male-centered, more self-referential in a way, supposedly more intriguing on this ground.


Last year's Oscar hopeful, crash-landed with only a consoling BEST MAKEUP nomination, a hagiography of Hitchcock's bumpy road of making PSYCHO (1960, 9/10), but indulging Ms. Hitchcock, Alma Reville hogging her equally abundant screen time does remind us another Helen Mirren commandeering biopic THE LAST STATION (2009), a manifest feminist protest only Dame Mirren dare to assume (twice!), albeit its Sir + Dame combo with an assortment of interesting supporting players, the film has undergone a rather bland and unimaginative storyline, after all why we just rematch PSYCHO again? Undoubtably it would be more fun.

The film marks writer Sacha Gervasi's non-documentary director debut, and only took a little more than one-month to shoot, for film aficionados, the story itself is hardly a novelty, with barriers all corralled together ahead of the production (difficult to believe even at the height of Hitchcock), the film firmly lays its gravitation at Hitchcock's fraught relationship with Alma, a thirty year itch, the mutual tolerance has to be tested at length. But Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughin appear to be inept in perk up the source material, whose execution is an array of cliches and witless lines, like MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011, 6/10), its entire credo is to exploit Hollywood anecdote and real-person imitation to seek for Oscar beckoning (with different comeuppances).

Sir Anthony Hopkins, hampered by the heavy make-up, hardly has any subtle expressions to act apart from his funny accent (no idea it is accurate or not, anyway I'm no purist in that), which is constantly vexing. Ms. Mirren again, against the uninspired script, leads the way into her character's inner battle, excellent work but doomed to be less appreciated thanks to the tepid allure the film could dole out. More untapped is the rest of the cast, 10 years after LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003, 9/10), Johansson's still soliciting her first Oscar nomination and the road has become bleaker and even tragic (by the way, to those who predicted she would surely gain an Oscar before 30, the joke is on yourselves), her reprisal of the bathroom murder scenes is the only dazzling solace in the film. Jessica Biel is a bona-fide laughing-stock, her rustic squareness is a humiliation for Ms. Miles but James D'Arcy's Anthony Perkins is golden, scandalously he is in here for less than 5 minutes. The under-used villain stereotype Michael Wincott plays Ed Gein, an archetype and inspiration of Norman Bates, lingers as a ghost figure near Hitchcock, desperately needs a film of his own. As for Toni Collette, find another agent, please!

Although it might be the truth, the real life of the master of suspense could be a bore, a cantankerous figure with blonde issues (or female issues) but is deeply in love with his aged wife, that is life which most of us are experiencing, and that's exactly why we need movies, not only to entertain, but widen our horizon as well, which neither can be pulled off from this film.

Blackbeard's Ghost

A feel-good Disney production, a priggish track-and-field coach (Jones) accidentally invokes the ghost of the centuries-old notorious pirate Blackbeard (Ustinov), who has been stuck in limbo eternally after death because of his 10th wife's vicious curse, while being only visible to the coach, Blackbeard needs to do something good to break the curse, so he decides to assist the coach's lame team to win the college competition (using his stunt of invisibility) in order to win the wager to pay back the bank mortgage and save the hereditary hotel which runs by Blackbeard's descendants (a gaggle of old ladies led by Lanchester).

Directed by Robert Stevenson after his post-MARY POPPINS (1964, 7/10) glory, the film fully taps into the jejune bickering and antics between the coach and Blackbeard, an anachronistic farce which hones up to a gratifying hilarity meanwhile tips the scales in hasty absurdity. The over-exploited shtick of Blackbeard's invisibility is as stock as fatiguable, it is a decent family treat after all.

Ustinov's eloquent oratory shines even under the circumstances of nothing stimulating needs to be uttered, whose mellifluous cadences alone can save the audience from the stodgy character' default setting, a tad annoying, a tad self-boasting, but nothing remotely hints Blackbeard's venomous nature. Dean Jones, with a Sean Connery-alike visage, contradictorily jibes with Ustinov's maverick image, has a holier-than-thou standard offering in his goodly appearance, completely sedated under Ustinov's grandstanding and so is Suzanne Pleshette, a professor of child psychology but more frisky and outward than her formal love-interest. Elsa Lanchester, owns a great gambit as an offbeat soothsayer, shamefully then steps off most of the time as a sightseer.

The embellished plot-line of the track events and casino gambling works well with the laughters, Stevenson and screenwriters surely had contrived a plan to let everything looks plausible no matter how illogical it seems, so as hard as they tried, it is a run-of-the-mill level of creation and self-aware of its demographical appeal.

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3(2013)

Arriving before its North American landing, IRON MAN 3 pulls off a momentous debuting in its international market, I saw it in a plain 2D version and, about this franchise, IRON MAN (2008, 8/10) is a left field coup, a middle-aged superhero to clinch the youth-dominated market, only Robert Downey Jr. could nail it with dapper openness and wisecracking debonair. So within six years span, a fourth cranked-out (if one counts THE AVENGERS 2012, 5/10) comes on strong this year to ignite the summer powder keg. Personally I skipped IRON MAN 2 (2010) though I still possess the DVD, and the only reason why IRON MAN 3 interests me is the Chinese element, reportedly three Chinese actors are on the slate of the cast, Xueqi Wang, Bingbing Fan and Jing Wu, but it turned out to be an utter scam, only Xueqi Wang appeared in about 3 seconds in 2 fleeting scenes with one line "Nihao" ("hello" in Mandarin) and so is Ben Kingsley's "The Mandarin", the ostensible ringleader of the terrorists (more Al-Qaeda than mandarin).

So what this new episode has offered to its devoted fanboys apart from the cookie-cutter template of the mega-Superhero action flicker? Since there are no succour from his fellow The Shields' teammates, Iron Man 3 perfunctorily opts to mass-produce the iron-clad robots to rescue the world (perish the undying human mutants), a lame and opportunist move to simplify the mess it creates and spurn any logistic plausibility (at least notify us how to kill mutants for good since they can regenerate themselves under any terms of damage), not to mention the cliffhanging twist of Pepper Potts, maybe it is all written in the next sequel.

Fans will never get enough of raking and levelling, it is undeniable that the demolition of Stark's mansion is visually stunning and apocalyptic, and the esprit-de-corps of the plane-wrecking rescue is also worth the wait (thanks to the telltale trailer), but in the end, the inevitable face-off is a kill-joy, compared with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012, 8/10), IRON MAN 3 looks as feckless as a light-hearted comedy, and its success can mainly be indebted towards Mr. Downey's omnipotent appeal, a rakish fop who owns everything and is sternly faithful to his partner (although a certain degree of promiscuity is a requisite), and more alluring, he can create superheroes.

Paltrow has more action sequences demanding out of her gaunt physique, and also shoulders a turnabout climax in the end, but still a trophy secretary-lover. Guy Pearce is a common-or-garden villain here (not as remotely interesting as in LAWLESS 2011, 8/10 last year), Ben Kinsley on the other hand, is the comic relief (besides Tony Stark) here, eccentrically inconsequential but a timely buffer from the intensified situation. Don Cheadle is ham-fisted as the other iron fighter and Rebecca Hall does evince cursory nuances for her expendable character. Among others, James Badge Dale (from SHAME 2011, 9/10 and FLIGHT 2012, 7/10) finally found his stepping-stone into mainstream showbiz, his indestructible henchman even makes his boss pale in comparison.

A puff of fresher air comes from the interaction between Stark and a fatherless boy (Ty Simpkins) at a rustic Tennessee setting, with jocular ripostes and a paternal bond affectingly enriches Tony Stark's personality and one plainly wishes this part would be more to offer. However, as the turnover rate has been accelerated dramatically these years in the superhero assembly-line, IRON MAN 3 is a serviceable vehicle to appease its core audience's anticipation, and if put into a larger picture, it is not innovate enough to be a game-changer as its prototype, it is just another helluva sequel, trite but lucrative. But it will be a sad sack if Mr. Downey keeps churning out the persona into his fifties, it could be a grand farewell for the trilogy, and future cameos are warmly welcome.

The Aristocats

A Paris-setting Disney traditional animation from 1970, THE ARISTOCATS does present a foreign-looking style of a 2-dimensional continental outlook and tell us a not-so-adventurous little vignette of a fairytale, a personification of animals (cats, dogs, a rat, a horse and geese), the story is about a gentrified quartet of pet cats (a mother with her three offering), who are outcast into the wild by a reprobate butler since they are in his way to inheritance of a wealthy Madame (the pets' owner). Soon they will meet their alleycat counterpart, a very gentleman-like one (male, of course), they enjoy a stint of adventures and a great big band revelry, then return home and sabotage the butler's scheme, easy and simple.

Running within a succinct 78 minutes, this animation epitomises nearly every trademark of Disney, a children-prone narrative, an illuminating storyline, adorably main characters with quirky sidekicks, cartoony villains and most significantly an unerringly happy ending. But what's more conspicuous in this Walt Disney's last output is the music renditions, French chanson led by Maurice Chevalier's title song from the opening credits, marches with classical-adaptive show tunes and bookends with a Jazz-infused razzle-dazzle, all is done in nifty set pieces and nimble workmanship. Also the benign caricatures of bourgeois French (for example, the mother cat keeps claiming they're more than pets to their Madame, who will be totally alone in the world without them, although it may be the truth, but her tone of snobbish does niggle me quite a bit) and gormless British (the twin geese and their uncle) are simultaneously entertaining and cringeworthy.

The voice cast is mellifluously solid, my own pick is Scatman Holloway's Scat Cat (a reincarnation and tribute of Louis Armstrong), while the action sequences between the butler and the two bandit dogs (Napoleon and Lafayette) are the high moment of the film, idiotic, yes, but masterfully concocted and slickly edited nonetheless, which nowadays has been substituted by grandiose spectacles in the mainstream animation branch.

So, for me ruefully it has been too late to watch this film for the first time at my awkward adult age, it is pure fun but the aftertaste is also fun-sized, no soul-searching commentary could be extracted, after all, it is a bona fide Disney fare, it you dig the franchise, for sure you will like it.

The Shop Around the Corner

Ernst Lubistch is a canonized name whose filmography has kept evading me until now, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, acclaimed as one of his most competent and most mature light comedies, is the ultimatum delight to savor under any circumstances.

One might fully aware that this film is the archetype of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan's commercial sensation YOU'VE GOT MAIL (1998, 7/10), but even its inception is over half a century older than the latter, the former still manage to overshadow it (or even any other praiseworthy rom-coms) in every possible aspect. An ingenious script renders a witty plot set-up which only leaves our leading lady unwittingly snared inside a white lie while audiences' appetite has been fully whetted and the final revelation is well-anticipated, humorous, affecting and sincerely good-natured, this is "the" kind of film which Hollywood doesn't (or is unable to) produce any more, pitifully!

The temperaments of the two leads are plain congenial and mutually harmonious, the James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan pair oozes the optimal chemistry in the conventional rom-com mis-matched setting. The two represents the quintessential precious nature of the two sexes, role models of the golden age and rarely can be found in reality now, it all reminds us nostalgically what a pure golden-heart could be and elicits more whole-hearted appreciation. Stewart would win his Oscar for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940, 8/10) the same year, but under Lubistch's guidance, his slightly reserved suaveness and gentleman-like diffidence achieve an irresistible personal debonair which also is difficult to find at present. Sullavan, not quite a household name but in this film, her performance is exquisite, heartwarming, say, the ending, when she finally gets to know the man of her dream is her bickering partner in the shop, her psychologically-shocking-but-exhilaratingly-content transition is the killing of the film and saves the film from being an emotional overkill or worse, a stroke of bathos.

Frank Morgan (afresh from THE WIZARD OF OZ 1939, 8/10) and Joseph Schildkraut both deliver excellent work as the credulous but kind-hearted shop owner and the sycophantic poseur in the shop respectively, pristine frills added to the main storyline.

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, is a rare gem of its own kind, I highly doubt Lubitsch could excel himself in his canon, where I will burrow and wish me luck!

Silver Linings Playbook

Finally a cinema-going to officially culminate all the Oscar BEST PICTURE nominee of last year, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK treads upon a traditionally crowd-pleasing boy-meet-girl romantic genre while smartly embodying two main characters with distinguished personal mental foibles, which is a masterstroke to keep them refreshing and connected with the present quirk-emancipated modern generation.

After his ambitious brothers-boxers drama THE FIGHTER (2010, 8/10), David O. Russell has ascended to the top tier of Hollywood where he can harness marquee stars and meaty source materials, thus, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK has all its edges to be winsome and lovable, but somewhat the final outcome doesn't live up much to the heated expectation, personally I am rather stolid from the American football fanaticism and the "parley gamble" bidding is by no means a recommendable action to be encouraged (but it is an intrinsic default in the source novel, O. Russell should not take the blame here I suppose), anyway, the scenario does make wonders to gyrate a captivating duo-dance between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, both utterly committed to their characters, verbal ripostes are acetic and sharply accessible. The chemistry sparkles albeit of the age-gap of the actors (a inconceivable 15 years in real life).

Jennifer Lawrence's Oscar-crowning has sparked (understandably) controversies (like most of the years), but it is like the film itself, acceptable (for me), the stretch of her character may be impeded by the condescending male-perspective of winning the right girl, why on earth it always ends with a stale "it is the girl who lingers on the verge of being hurt" plot even under the exception of the mighty confidence discharging from Lawrence's character. Her youth is the double-edged sword in this case, thanks to her mature countenance, audience may not detect it instantly, and the film also bypasses to specify her age. So it is a younger example of Helen Hunt's win and looks like a future Jodie Foster career orbit, plus her Kristen Stewart popularity (THE HUNGER GAME franchise will continue lighting her path), she is the "it girl" in Hollywood right now and a role model of the industry.

Bradley Cooper, a later-bloomer in his leading man status, has seized an unexpected earlier harvest in Oscar-nomination than most of his contemporaries, although constantly in the danger of being overshadowed by his more sapient co-stars, performance-wise, it is his own victory. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, are not in my top 10 list of the year, since the script doesn't challenge them hard enough, but they do reflect the slice-of-life authenticity of the endearing parents (except that De Niro's weeping scene is too maudlin to endure). And forget about Chris Tucker, I don't know why he pops up here to interrupt his satisfactory (both to him and to me) holed-up.

So, it is a happily-ever-after fairytale full of mentally unstable people with various neuroses, the steady-cam cinematography looks hipster but also impairs one's concentration, the ultimate dance-routine is mesmerizingly shot, but the banal ending does causing a compulsive meh before the credits rolls, although the final speech is fine and (artificially) sincere.

Life Without Principle (Dyut Meng Gam)

Johnnie To, the Godfather of Hong Kong, is the doughtiest and arguably the only Hong Kong film auteur still safeguards the pedigree of the untainted spirit from its halcyon days, after the detrimental ramifications of the censorship battlefield with mainland Chinese policy, which put Hong Kong film industry into a retrograde quagmire, only from Johnnie To's prolific output one (especially for those who has witnessed or influenced by Hong Kong films' golden era, e.g. 1980-1997) can retrieve some salve from the bleak situation (underpins by the poignant slogan "Hong Kong Film is Dead!).

LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE has its clear-sighted objective dispassionateness, adopts 3 discrete narratives from a cop, a bank clerk and a Triad member (with tentative overlays) all converge with a parking lot homicide case, and intriguingly delineates the current situation in Hong Kong society under the background of Greece's ecumenic catastrophe, which reflects the anxiety and levity in normal citizens' mind set. A dowdy retired housewife falls prey to the callous investment chicanery, a vivid mirror image of millions of ourselves, bank system embezzles people's hard-earned savings, benefits from the (almost inclusive) profit while shunts all the risky liabilities to each account holder, a deep-rooted capitalism scourge on the modern society. Veteran actress Hang Shuen So conducts a visceral impersonation using her meager appearance as the cipher victim. Denise Ho (an out-of-the-closet lesbian singer and new actress) garnishes the office-confined monotony with her restrained tolerance and discontentment as the conscientious clerk, a subdued archetypal in the white-collar hierarchy.

Versatile actor Ching Wan Lau is the Triad minion, pious to his boss and brothers, although time changes, the Triad business are at the low ebb now, but his foolhardiness resists with a perverse tenderness, in a time when brotherhood can be easily teased as homoerotic metonymy, his loyalty is far-fetched but resonates with the gangster nostalgia which permeates the genre's best moments (To's ELECTION 2005, 8/10 and TRIAD ELECTION 2006, 8/10 are among the swan songs), Ching Wan Lau experiments a methodological mimicry with blinking-laden vivacity in his character's naive and befuddled persistence.

The third thread germinates from Richie Ran's cop, which ruefully is the weakest link and casts a shadow to the development of the character's below-the-surface tension, the elevator incident with explosive serves the only chilly thrill of the film which feels insatiable for To's generic followers.

The ending mercifully caters for a interim reprieve to the 3 protagonists, but To seems to be as unconvincing as the audiences, the fluke (gamble) is not an elixir, the stopgap is rickety, everyone is still caught in the spiderweb and the exit sign seems too far to reach.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

I have no idea who Chuck Barry is, but I guess I should not miss Mr. Clooney's director debut, furthermore Charlie Kaufman is billed as the screen writer, so the premise looks rosy. The film kicks off with a self-inspective unreeling of Chuck's life-long hustle and bustle jostling with his TV show-runner identity and a clandestine CIA assassin, interspersing with black & white snippets of interviews with people who know Chuck in the real life (but mostly are pithy soundbites whose only purpose is to mystify his personage), occasionally the film switches into an over-saturated, over-exposed hue which may engender some hallucinatory reverberation, since the most obvious selling point is the enthralling double life scenario and leaving all the traces which could be siphoned (by viewers) to make one's own judgement whether it is plain fictional or not.

But the ramifications are as much ambiguous as what George Clooney (an exemplar of the mainstream Hollywood mindset) wants us to believe, it does manage to shape a believe-it-or-despise-it logjam and according to the film's depiction, Chuck Barry is nothing but a pipsqueak (there is no reference of any flair in his ascending in the show business), a lunatic has a very troubled mental state (a dreadful imagination of someone is going to finish him off), a repellent womanizer/sex-addict has big commitment issues if we simply remove the " hit-man" halo, so from which one could imply is that the "other identity" suits well to rationalize his personal mire, it is his last straw, but from the eyes of an audience, it flunks by blatantly over-beautifying the double-identity situation, I never feel the frisson albeit the film is being cunningly shot in a retro-redolent grain, with a friendly comic tone and lively interactions between the cinematography and the editing, plus an ace soundtrack with the trademark of its time. But pitifully Charlie Kaufman's script doesn't have too much to bite.

The biographic nature demands a wider range of chronicle, which may also be the Achilles heel of the genre, without zooming in any enhanced center-pieces, everything runs episodic, leaving no instant aftertaste at all to be amazed and appreciated. All sidekicks are come-and-go (with Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts the female auxiliaries have longer stints, both equally awful I must say, Barrymore doesn't age at all along a two-decades span which is so dragging viewers out of the picture), the sole comic relief is the performance from Sam Rockwell, who was largely unknown at that time and overlooked by the awards season (a SILVER BERLIN BEAR for BEST ACTOR is his only trophy), his panache proffers the vitality of the film against its slightly mind-bogging narrative tempo, also his personal charisma transcends his character, and sublimates his character Chuck, a connection has been substantially built across the screen, a triumphant achievement in deed.

Rutger Hauer, a fellow assassin, said in the film "killing my first man (in the WWII) is like making love with my first woman", which strikes a chord with my previous argument in DR. STRANGELOVE (1964, 8/10), war and killing may truly be the by-product of heterosexual men's hegemony in the society, if actually the raving stupidity germinates from the biologic impulse, along with evolution, let us hope a less macho but peaceful world is ahead of us.

Zero Dark Thirty

A tit-for-tat vengeance it ostensibly acclaims, ZERO DARK THIRTY is a gritty, hard-boiled account of our anti-heroine Maya's relentless pursuit of Usama Bin Laden, and the most precious calibre of Kathryn Bigelow's latest film (after her precedent Oscar champion THE HURT LOCKER 2008, 8/10) is it soberly obviates any hyperbole which is attendant with its sensational thematic source.

The film centers closely on Maya's perspective (excludes the last 30-minutes of re-enactment of the actual raid), the camera prowls around her, sifts meticulously her reflexes towards the mires she is engulfed with, meanwhile, Kathryn adopts a much daring path to categorically circumvents Maya's personal life and background foils, which inevitably will cause some unbecoming distance towards its core audience, but it does enhance a tincture of ceremonial sacrifice in her devotion, a fatalism glory in her trials and tribulations which can empathize in any other individual's own track of life.

Standing firmly as an apolitical film fanatic, I could stay unruffled with its vexing "torture" controversy because as it is mentioned in the film, "it is just biology", the truth lies unscathed here and there no matter how we try to whitewash it, and it is extremely feasible to exert the extreme action under the extreme circumstances, the film really has some guts in not hedge the issue and instead, it emboldens us to question ourselves to face the darkest side of our humanity, Maya's gradual stolidness towards torture could be applied to anyone if facing a similar situation (there are profuse nefarious activities happening everyday everywhere). So a film should not be punished to reveal the " inconvenient truth" which slams the hypocrisy of the ruling class, it is foreseeable that not everyone would be happy with the film, but what is the most quintessential conviction is that this sort of film should own its voice and place in the market and earn its appeal.

Kathryn recruited most of her THE HURT LOCKER crew in this film, so the dusty texture, erratic camerawork, superb sound effect and visual blast are viscerally cogent. Jessica Chastain, whose excellency I may not repeat here, but her flair of arresting attention is inscrutably immense, even as plain as simple contemplation, she would blow you away. Her illustrious future is clearly beckoning and Meryl Streep can feel a sense of relief since finally there is someone who can suit her shoes, interestingly, it is the very much underused and under-appreciated actress Jennifer Ehle who resembles a staggering young Meryl Streep countenance in the film, and among a dozen of male ancillary roles, Jason Clarke should be honorably mentioned albeit his screen-time diminution in the latter half of the film does leave his Oscar-chance awry.

The film altogether is more like a phlegmatic rumination of a persistence of what we believe than a panegyric for unsung heroes, it establishes its unyielding stance out of a presumed HOMELAND-esque political thriller pattern, personally it is that kind of film I admire more than I enjoy, and Ms. Bigelow and the screenwriter Mark Boal are the unsung heroes here.

Life of Pi
Life of Pi(2012)

I cannot overpower my very own purist's paranoia, I watched this film in theater a few days earlier in dubbed Italian (my Italian level is so-so), I could not reckon that any film has been officially "viewed" until I have watched it in its original form, so thanks to the latest BluRay copy, finally I am able to hail LIFE OF PI as my current favorite film of 2012!

Although the film literally is the biggest Oscar winner this year (4 wins out of 11 nominations) and Ang Lee now is up among the pre-eminent echelon of a multi-times BEST DIRECTOR winner, the unfulfilled appreciation (from the prim Academy) still seethes inside, the BEST PICTURE/BEST DIRECTOR division has stuck Ang Lee and his teams twice is unprecedentedly jaundiced.

Back to the film itself, I am pretty oblivious to Yann Martel's source novel, but Ang Lee and his crew has deserved every single accolade because the outcome is simply astounding and mind-blowing, from the exotic Indian zoo, the palette of liveliness and quietude seeps directly to viewer's mind curves, then, the visual stunts take over, the minutiae are constructed into an inconceivable kaleidoscope of sea survival (ship-wrecking, heaven-like sea surface, carnivore island).

The allegorical storyline which can be laconically recapitulated as "the story between a boy and a Bengal tiger floating on the sea", also goes beyond one's mundane imagination, the liaison between Pi and Richard Parker the tiger has gone through a minute incubation-to-transition cliffhanger (technically it is not a cliffhanger since we all know the ending beforehand, but the two-hander just conjures magic spell upon us, which is mesmerizing, eye-popping and heart-warming), with the brilliant first-time actor Suraj Sharma interacting viscerally with the green screen (an almost entirely CGI-germinated tiger heralds the auspicious retirement of all the animal cast, as long as money continues investing, leave those poor animals in peace and so are the ever-engaging animal activist). Both Suraj and Irrfan Khan (the adult Pi) deserve more recognition from their meticulous and soul-searching performances.

Being an agnostic, Pi's eclectic belief in all disparate religions doesn't register enough contention to me, and also it is claimed to be "a story could make one believe in God", the film is marvelous in keeping its ambivalence so determined that either of the interpretation could find its recipients piously and without arousing any palpable repulsion even we all know how parochial people could react as far as "religions"is concerned.

The film is a flawless eye-candy and soul-remedy, multiple viewings are highly-recommended, it is a conscientious masterstroke to corroborate Ang Lee's versatility in mastering his universe of filmmaking (no genre boundary at all), commixed his oriental philosophy with western first-class craftsmanship and esprit de corps, Ang Lee can swagger further on the path of a true auteur, not only among his peers, even for a holistic view in the film history, his trail can be indelible.


A slick Norwegian thriller from director Morten Tyldum, HEADHUNTERS is a thoroughly gripping and spanking high-octane cat-mouse game (magnificent suspense enhancer), which is goodly on a par with any of its qualified Hollywood counterparts (a US remake is already on the process).

An obnoxiously cocksure premise always forebodes something ominous is looming in the air, a vertically challenged headhunter (the same height as mine, I feel so blessed I'm not living in Scandinavian region) whose clandestine identity is a painting thieve, lives an (almost) perfect life, the ostensible glitch is the reluctance to have a baby with his tall and sultry wife (who is a gallery owner), so what is the purpose to find a towering wife if he doesn't want any offspring to offset his genetic shortcoming? The prompt reason is fertility malfunction, which actually is not the case at all. In fact, a probable financial quandary is the latent menace which will overturn his plush lifestyle so when an opportunity arrives unwittingly, he decides to make his final job, which could set him free of his past and guarantee an opulent future, against an intimidating alpha-male (ex marine and tracking expert), then of course things will slide down to a nightmare he has never imagined, after the travails of narrow escapes from death, remarkably he is able to shift from the victim to a plotter and eventually defeats his enemy, gets away with the law and revitalize his relationship with his wife, an overtly optimistic happy-ending.

The film consistently registers the fast-paced rhythm running around an over-manipulated plot, including many shock-value stunts which craftily exerted (an unexpected come-back-from-the-dead upset, the cesspit hiding, and the gruesome aftermath of a police vehicle careening off the cliff, etc.), but in order to pull off a thorny come-clean turnabout, if giving a considerable amount of time to muse on after the viewing, many plot-holes will betray (not everything can be pigeonholed as a fluke in the spiderweb of meticulous criminal activities), and unexplained loopholes are glaring enough to an extent which would categorically diminish the frisson which one could apprehend first-hand.

Leading man Aksel Hennie delivers a dynamic momentum in his physically-racked bullet-avoiding incubus, and confidently evokes an anti-hero aura which would otherwise be running against the audience's conscience. The Hollywood-struggling Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (from GAME OF THRONES series and Jessica Chastain-vehicled horror feature MAMA 2013) is ill-starred as the villain, largely sidelined except his virile extravaganza (the final face-off is a major let-down). Two female characters are ambivalently written here, one is to keep the scheme as misty as possible and another is simply garnished as an additional action gadget to the main course.

So, although the film may feel tainted after a second viewing (which I may politely bypass), there is some genuine novelty and sufficient workmanship in the making, and inasmuch as there are two things we cannot defy, one is the gravity and another is a writer's block, let's overlook the elephant in the room and cherish an adrenalin-driven adventure.

Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

According to Morrissey's recent manifestation "more gay people, more peaceful the world", war is the malicious ramification of heterosexual men's urge to kill their peers (I'm paraphrasing here), which tallies germanely with this Kubrick's black war satire. Under the cold war backdrop, a rogue nuclear attack to Soviet Union commenced by a fervid anti-communist USA general, which would (irrevocably) launch a doomsday machine (a Soviet Union's ultimate self-destructive nuclear contraption), and would annihilate all the human beings on the earth. It may sounds ridiculous and far-fetched by the mass, Kubrick's masterful endeavor has overcome the detached accessibility of the warfare lingoes and the exclusivity of the decision-makers' political impasse to implement a stranger-than-fiction satire which grants a considerable closeness to its audience with ease.

Running within 100 minutes, the film slickly unreels its storyline with great force of dark humor which imbues parodic and even cartoonish idiosyncrasies to the permeating machismo in the air. Peter Sellers' three-faceted versatility, George C. Scott's Communism-slamming extravaganza and Sterling Hayden's trigger-happy paranoia plus Slim Pickens' cowboy hat, the ensemble cast owns their respective frantic glory within a compacted steak of time, umpteen gags and mockeries can be savored ad infinitum, Sellers'British accent (as Group Captain) when confronting Sterling's General Rippers is unimpeachably spontaneous, Keenan Wynn's coca-cola joke is pertinently deadpan serious and Sterling's conspiracy theory about water fluoridation and the fearful deprivation of life essence during a sexual intercourse (the man just cannot face his natural aging mechanism of the body) are plainly golden ideas, outlandish but vividly rib-tickling, and astringently self-reflective.

Kubrick's trademark set design which would prevail in his later color features has not fully exploited this black-and-white war farce, and the (not-too-obvious) misogyny and chauvinism overtone does impede the sensitive nerves a bit, nevertheless, it is not my favorite Kubrick's film, but it is an outstanding comedy which I presume can stay untainted by numerous re-watches, for me the first round is more than gratifying and since my generally inert resistance towards war-related films, a second round may take some time despite of its overall peerlessness.

The Impossible

Naomi Watts just seized her second Oscar nomination (ended with an inevitable lose though) in this tsunami catastrophe survival drama which happened in South Asia 2004. Directed by Spanish young director Juan Antonio Bayona (yes, it is a Spanish production in spite of its mainly English-speaking cast), which marks his comeback after the internationally-accoladed debut THE ORPHANAGE (2007, 8/10), an ingeniously orchestrated horror-fest.

The film's first half is a lip-smacking triumph not only for the special visual effects simulating the walls of water and its overwhelming impact, it's like HEREAFTER (2010, 6/10) meets 127 HOURS (2010, 8/10), vividly renders a kindness of faithful vicariousness on viewers through the white-knuckle self-salvage from the mother-son dyad. And if HEREAFTER could nab an Oscar nomination for BEST VISUAL EFFECTS, THE IMPOSSIBLE easily trumps it. But for the second half, the storytelling adopts a middle-of-the-road sentimentality, it is all about the reunion, still, there is a remarkable achievement for the editing team (and the cinematography group as well) to interlace Watts' flashbacks under the water with the operation she is undergoing, which is done with an eye-opening flourish.

Adapted from a true event, from one hand, it affirmatively obviates the barbs like what's the odds the entire family (one couple with 3 son, age 12, 7 and 5 respectively) could pull through the calamity, it is a genuine miracle literally had happened (as far as the denouement concerned), so just deal with it! But from the other hand, the film shamefully sacrifices the accuracy for the sake of the emotional climax, which is a prerequisite for selling the tickets I suppose, and it worked (my eyes swelled with tears for many occasions), even simultaneously there is a tint of bathos ascending when the five of them finally find each other altogether at one place one time, it is so lame!

Anyway, the film is also a victory for the cast, although Watts is bedridden for half of her time on screen, her hard-earned Oscar nomination is well-deserved, an impeccable endeavor out of the mundanity of her character (a woman try to survive under a dire circumstance). Tom Holland, the true leading man and great discovery from the film as the eldest son, has a stunning resemblance of a young Jamie Bell (what a coincidence, Tom was actually had a stint in BILLY ELLIOTS the musical to play the titular role in 2008, and call it sexism, academy never nominates teenage actors for their leading roles), most of the time he is the audience's proxy, we see through his eyes, his precocity and gallantry dominates the most chunk of the film's narrative and it has been executed unimpeachably. Ewan McGregor, absent for a disturbingly long time in the film, can only descend himself in a supporting part, he is a consistent great player in the race who is unfortunately always falling under the Oscar radar by only a notch, his cellphone-calling scene should be inscribed in every Oscar voter's mind, so next time, his glory will be duly justified. Also, the great Geraldine Chaplin, delivers the punchline "the impossibility of death stars" in her unforgettable cameo.

Juan Antonio Bayona has warranted his craftsmanship in dealing with spectacular sensations, so Hollywood might beckon him to their wonderland, even if not, I daresay the next big thing is on the rising.

ps, I guess Seth MacFarlane did see this film since apart from MULHOLLAND DR. (2001, 9/10) we also saw your boobs here, Naomi, but this time we are in a rueful mood.


A R.W. Fassbinder double-feature binge (CHINESE ROULETTE 1976 and QUERELLE 1982, his swan song) coincides with a starting point for me to access his oeuvre, as one of the pioneer of modern German cinema, Fassbinder has a burning-too-fast career orbit, as if he was exerting all his energy in cranking out films before his dooming self-indulgent suicide at the age of 37 (with more than 40 works done in 15 years). Yet two films must have its restricted view, but Fassbinder films' mindset nevertheless more or less could be conjectured from them, and his stylish flourish is also mesmerizingly toxic.

Both films could adopt themselves comfortably into a theatrical play not the least courtesy of their (mostly or exclusively) in-door locales, for CHINESE ROULETTE, it has a secular tone, 90% of the film takes place inside a rural mansion, with familial secrets, connubial deceptions, mother-daughter hatred, the divide of social strata, vindictive self-destruction viciously unfold and infuse a deleterious corruption even to the onlookers, all is triggered by the innocuous eponymous game. While QUERELLE is projected on more ritualized dark amber light sepia background setting stimulating a claustrophobic oppression of lust and desire within a handful locations (the faux-deck of a ship ashore, the phallus worship Hotel Feria Bar, an underground tunnel for hideaway), a male-dominant sexual obsession mingled with blatant homosexual thrust to an astounding incestuous extremity, brilliantly done via an intuitive candor.

Mirror is a recurrent item in both films, exposes the other-half which reflects the true id inside one's soul, in CHINESE ROULETTE the stunning flux of the stationary tableaux interlacing two or three out of the eight characters orchestrates a scintillating picture of a guilt-and-punishment visual symphony with swishy panache; in QUERELLE, mirrors reduce their occurrence but the conscientiously measured compositions transpire an even more ostentatious narcissism with a sultry plume of hormone-excreting rugged contours of male bodies.

QUERELLE is adapted from Jean Genet's novel "QUERELLE DE BREST", whose literature text also introduced through the soothing voiceover of an unknown narrator, the film does stage a sensible amount of poetic license to filter a vicarious compassion through a singular mortal's inscrutable behavioral symptoms; in CHINESE ROULETTE, a prose (or poem) soliloquy of androgyny also contrives to reach the same effect (but sounds a trifle recondite when contextualizing it under the film's incumbent situation). Anyhow Fassbinder is a trailblazer in defying the mainstream's prejudices, and very capable of visualize and dissect the tumor of humanity.

The cast, there are 8 characters in CHINESE ROULETTE, with almost equal weight in the screen time, but it is the youngest one, Andrea Schober (under Fassbinder's guidance for sure), the crippled girl seeks for revenge to her parents' betrayal and negligence, teaches all of us a lesson (how selfish we are to find a scapegoat for every bit of repercussions happen to us) with such acute insight, fearless audacity and extreme measures. While big name (Anna Karina) and other Fassbinder's regulars (Margit Carstensen, Brigitte Mira, Ulli Lommel) all end up licking their own wounds in the corner.

In QUERELLE, Brad Davis (a real-life AIDS fighter then) is valiant, his masculinity and sinewy physique defies all the stereotyped treatment of gay men in the media, injecting a raw and visceral complexity into Querelle's spontaneous promiscuity and sporadic anger. Hanno Pöschl may fall short to guarantee the vigorous duality required for his two roles, but the gut-bashing combats (or playing) between two brothers fabricate the most erotic intimacy has ever been presented on the screen. Two veterans, Franco Nero is either recording his secret affection in the cabinet or wandering near Querelle from oblique angles; the fading beauty Jeanne Moreau, hums "Each man kills the things he loves", and is lost in her own fantasy of the banquet she can savor.

Personally I incline towards QUERELLE's unconventional approach to kill off the ambiguities of sexual orientation and examine the most primal desire made with blood and flesh, but CHINESE ROULETTE achieves another form of success, it maintains a serene aplomb above all the vile assault and bitter turbulence, like the unspecified pistol shot at the coda, no matter who bites the dust, a bullet is never an ultimate solution to all the problems.

The Fortune Cookie

THE FORTUNE COOKIE is Billy Wilder's last Black & White feature and marked the first collaboration of the comedy two-hander Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (ten more times would follow). The story rotates around an accident prompted insurance scam, plotted by Walter Matthau, the brother-in-law of our protagonist, a sport channel cameraman (Lemmon) who has to feign his spinal injure to ascertain a grand indemnity from the insurance company. It may reminisce of Wilder's noir chief-d'oeuvre DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944, 8/10), but it is a self-aware comedy, plays out effectively with a scintillating performance from Mr. Mattau (which deservedly earned him an Oscar).

The picture may be eclipsed by Wilder's other more orthodox great works as aforementioned DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE APARTMENT (1960, 9/10), SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959, 6/10), WITNESS FOR PROSECUTION (1957, 9/10), which are on my viewing lists only. Nevertheless itself is a well-intentioned conscience and guilt parable, the script derives from Wilder's whimsical idea and feels cosseting its audience with an overdone happy ending, which is too saccharine and slackens the frisson which has been accumulated since the dawn of the swindle (we all know it will receive an anticlimax, the only question remains is how).

Jack Lemmon is as studious as usual, painstakingly exerts great sympathetic effort from his (mostly) wheelchair-and-corset confined character, which doesn't have any cinematic idiosyncrasy to churn out, an ordinary guy who falls victim of the manipulation of his chiseled lawyer-cum-brother-in-law and the sex-driven chimera of his money-grabbing ex-wife's comeback. Walter Mattau excels the rest of the cast with his eloquent showboating of his professional acumen and satirizing punchlines. Judi West is also very competent in playing the double-faced ex-wife, lends her role a whiff of intricacy against the stale women-derogation assumption. Ron Rich by comparison, although serves as a game-changer player in the plot, is a green banana and wanting the charisma needed to persuade viewers to (at least) believe in his side of story. The character actor Cliff Osmond, as the private detective, launches many gags which leave some indelible impressions too.

Texturally speaking, the Black & White images emit a gloss of richness and sentimentalities, the melodic, sporadic score by Andre Previn goes smoothly with the context, not Wilder's best, but still an appealing comedy from the Hollywood golden epoch.

Promised Land

This film should've been Matt Damon's director debut (he is one of the co-writer and co-producer) since Ben Affleck is hot on fire in his director chair, it must be quite tempting for Matt to follow his suit. Then for unknown reasons, he backed up from directing while remaining in starring in it. So a safe backup stand-in is Gus Van Sant, to whom Matt and Ben will forever indebted for the sake of GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997, 8/10), so the proviso here is that one should not expect it as a true Gus Van Sant's vehicle than a tossed-off understudy product under his belt (as I will not call his previous film RESTLESS 2011, 7/10 a misfire).

The trailer can also be misguiding, if one appraises from its juicy backstory, then assumes it will be another righteous individuals vs. global gas company on ecological terms of winning the moral and monetary victory, or another ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000, 8/10), PROMISED LAND never goes that far to unveil a certain impulse of inspirational excitement, and craftily it engineers on a personal route of redemption and choosing the right way to go, with a trifle soppy sentiment and hasty conspiracy theory.

Matt Damon is always playing Matt Damon (even in the action-packed BOURNE series), less an articulate orator than George Clooney, but wearing a much humbler ordinary-joe outfit, his final confession is banal but teemed with sincerity and earnestness, also an emotional spiel in the pub, which will wrought a punch in the face soon after, might end up as the highlights in his acting stretches.

Frances McDormand, is excellent as usual, hardly shines with her sidelined role, basically as an observer, her character holds up a well-maintained bulwark and conveys a more reality-concerned authenticity. John Krasinski (also a co-writer and co-producer), oozes a smug confidence throughout, until it comes his "twist-revealing"segment, switching between two antagonistic parties could never be easier or more shameless from his gauche utterance, also the twist is very lame (maybe I've watched too many USA TV series since I literally felt it coming and prayed it would not be the case). Rosemarie DeWitt, Krasinski's significant other in reality, curbed by the benevolent nature of her role, is too trivial to mention. The only solid supporting performance is from Hal Holbrook, the one and only brain among the villagers, concludes the film with his concern on the focal point, how we can juggle with both the advantage of our modern life and the elephant-in-the-room ramifications it instigates, we all want to take the high ground of morality while not giving up our various privileges, there is no such good things, a pipe dream for all.

To conclude, PROMISED LAND has its languid pace and formulaic structure, the palette is enjoyable, but it is just a foil in Gus Van Sant's erratic filmography, period.

The Angels' Share

It has been only my second Ken Loach's film I've seen so far (after his Palme d'Or winner THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY 2006, 7/10), and I'm in no place to expound how different it is from his (usually) politically-sensitive drama pieces, but one sure thing is this time the tonal shift is too prominent to ignore, an uplifting comedy vibrates with youthful restlessness and intersperses with vulgar but rib-tickling gags (inclusively transmitted by the f-words spouting Gary Maitland), the pertinent caricature on the snobbery of pursuing the exorbitant the-best-whiskey-in-the-world (Americans will not be pleased in this paragraph); and what's more precious is that it implements a magnificent positive message to encourage people in misery to seek their own subjective alternative to break out the status quo, which could evoke a universal empathy all over the map.

Started with a violent and bleak milieu, Robbie is a young petty criminal who becomes a father for the first time, after narrowly getting away from jail time, he is serving the community service order, the first half of the film is dispatched with many grim gambits with the opponents' retaliative assault, the point-blank confrontation between him and the victim's whole family, the tension between him and his girlfriend and insults from his girlfriend's father. Everyone deserves a second chance, and Robbie knows it may be his last one, after befriends with the community service officer who is a wine epicure, Robbie sees the light of his life from the newly-discovered barrel of an out-of-the-world whiskey, he details a bold plan which may rescue him and his friends from poverty and desperation. From that point, the film leans on a bit rosier rhythm to unravel Robbie's ruse with laughters, suspense and accidents (also kilts) abound.

First-time actor Paul Brannigan is quite instrumental in depicting Robbie's unassuming wit, at first, he has a shadowy look with the scar on the face signposts his rebellious nature, the first impression has gradually altered halfway through, when audience realize what is in his mind, the anticipation rockets high and Ken Loach doesn't cringe at simplifying the heist to an even unrealistic scenario (not one single sentinel to guard the million-pounds-baby?), at the core of a refreshing salvation comedy, it is swiftly done, efficient and brisk. 8 out of 10 may be a bit overrated, but I believe one should always have mercy towards comedy genre (especially now, a brilliant one is like gold dust), with Ken Loach at the helm, it would be more reverent!

La Voie lactée (The Milky Way)

My third venture into Luis Bunuel's repertoire, after THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE (1977, 8/10) and BELLE DE JOUR (1967, 8/10), THE MILKY WAY, which refers to "the road to St. James", depicts a trek of two vagabonds' pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, en route they meet a melange of characters converse about their religious outlooks and interweaving with anachronistic re-enactments (or mimicry) of the biblical figures, trying to expound the hidden messages about the elliptical realm of divinity, humanity and heresies.

Religion is never my specialty, and the staccato narrative does remind me of Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Trilogy of Life", consists of terse vignettes or anecdotes, it seems the "reason" is never being considered as the director's prime option, all the impetus is purveyed by the re-created images and the Holy words (condescending, emotionless, authoritative), the two destitute pilgrims barely assume any obligation other than indicating a geographical route for the odyssey.

There are some highlights (for me at least), the transubstantiation argument between an ex-priest who ran off from a mental-hospital and a science-endorsed brigadier; a highly-histrionic image of Death during a car accident after an unintentional swear; the Holy Mary miracle narrated by the Spanish priest, and the eerily surreal "whoever knocks don't open the door" episode, all come off intriguing for an agnostic's mind.

The film adopts an authentic or natural sound recording, there is no use of concurrent music alongside, a barrage of religious parables may or may not reminisce the vicarious epiphany which the director deliberately intended, as a film under the belt of Luis Bunuel, I feel it is a pity I fail to find enough conspicuous worthiness in this film since the barricade lie between me and that spiritual world is rather too colossal.

The Master
The Master(2012)

Perceived as my most anticipating film of 2012, THE MASTER is Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious comeback after THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007, 9/10), 5 years interval may be too long for PTA fanboys, but again the wait is unmistakably deserved.

Post-WWII, a USA naval veteran inadvertently hops on a yacht one night and is hooked on a cult named "The Cause", lead by its eloquent yet irascible master, while being an avid follower of the master, his perennial booze-abusive, sex-driven, violent nature enables himself to be the soul needs salvation, a side-kick and a role model, it also encroaches his mental realm and life orientation, eventually challenges his loyalty with The Cause and the master.

PTA's trademark roving and tracking long-shots maintain as engaging as any directors could ever achieve, not obtrusive but impeccably tally with the storytelling; the retro-soaked palette authentically establishes a mystic aura of the inexplicable internal mechanism of how our emotion rises and falls, attended by a rhythmic score from Jonny Greenwood.

Joaquin Phoenix gives me a first impression of Michael Shannon (whose TAKE SHELTER 2011, 9/10 is among my top pick of 2011), in a far gaunter figure, he embodies his character so devotedly and destructively, it is a privilege to appreciate his hunchback stance, the unique way when he speaks (English words evade me now, help?), his exuberance, his furore, his confusion and his determination. The erosive bitterness conceals in his gawky body is compelling and he is a war victim, a damaged good seeking for a rejuvenation, the master and The Cause may or may not cure him, anyhow, he still possess his free will, if only the power of repetition works.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, doesn't need too much physique alternation though, is equally mesmerizing if not too overbearing, his mind-blowing delineation of the master's polarized volatility is another textbook archetype of performance art. Amy Adams, whose fourth Oscar-nomination in 8 years has wrought some dissent here, accomplishes an amazing expressionless supporting performance, her role doesn't require any ostentatious flare-up, but each time her composure and relentlessness exudes disparate feelings from inside (blithe, haughty, disdained, confident, commanding, suspicious, disgusted, etc.), and her "milking the cow"coalition with Hoffman is simply petrifying.

Grabbing only 3 acting nominations (with faint possibility to win any of them), THE MASTER's bumpy Oscar-road is far from triumphant compared with THERE WILL BE BLOOD, but time will testify whether it is an overlooked masterpiece or an elusive piece of self-indulgent, but no matter on which case, one cannot deny that it heralds that PTA is most probably on his way to be the Stanley Kubrick of our generation (not least suggested by the evocative nudity scenes which seemingly pay tribute to the masked orgy in EYES WIDE SHUT 1999, 8/10), and it is a tremendous blessing for all the cinephiles.

Seksmisja (Sexmission)

It's a rare gem which doesn't weather away for nearly 30 years, from Polish director Juliusz Machulski, it's a Sci-Fi satire, two men awake in 2044 from their prolonged hibernation (two guinea pigs for science devotion or other reasons whatsoever) find out they dwell in a girls-run-the-world civilization with an utter male-extinction premise, which sounds instinctively should prompt great source work for heterosexual porn movies, although the female sexual exploitation may not be dodged (for the audience's sake), the film's novelty lies in its satisfying and unexpected device of an utter revelry which defies genre savvy with whimsical set pieces and twists-and-turns, a parthenogenesis propagation laboratory, the neutralization or liquidation verdict (with the history-twisted gender-switch for Copernicus and Einstein, even more farcical to satirize Ms. Curie), the father-daughter "reunion", the ludicrous password " FUCK" gag, not to mention the final anti-climate unveiling of "the third man", it is a rudimentary success in conveying its apolitical farce above all the presumably controversial bearings among the gender-sensitive, hegemony-wary, surveillance-omnipresent, rebellion-quelling and eroticism-awakening nitpicking.

Two leading actors, Olgierd Lukaszewicz and Jerzy Stuhr, one prim, another more secular (at the beginning, their characteristics are manifestly reflected by the different knee-jerking responses towards a glass-cracking accident, an internal pressure or a bad omen) comprise an amiable pair, the now-ubiquitous neologism "bromance" can effortlessly find its own mirror here; various sleek and sensual women delineated here are mostly warrior-like outside, wooden and brainwashed inside, but eventually there will be two lucky ones who will fall prey as the rewards for the last two men standing. It's a mainstream smart move yet overall convincingly played out.

Decorated with a Sci-Fi milieu, the claustrophobic settings and synthesizer-produced electronic score can easily betray the film's 80s trappings, but Juliusz Machulski has a sober sense not to be too lenient in its thematically pie-in-the-sky orgy, when the film ends with an overlong close-up at a new-born baby's penis, it is a truly satisfactory culmination.

ps: if my memory serves me well, it is actually the second Polish film I've ever watched, heralds an auspicious starting point for me to perambulate this strange land.


Welcome back Robert Zemeckis after his actor-animation capture ventures, FLIGHT heralds his first time return to a real live feature after a dozen years. Great relief he is still excelling in instructing a debatable moral tale with a back-to-his-top-form two-times Oscar-winner Denzel Washington.

The narration has its gradual and clock-wise temp in scrutinizing a heroic pilot's personal quagmire after landing a doomed-to-be-crashed plane with minimum casualty by virtue of his alcoholic addiction (what's worse is the fact that he was cockeyed even when he was at the helm during that dreadful accident). From a legitimate angle, although his valorous action deserves raves from the mass, and the pivotal cause of the accident largely lies in an outdated plane part, he still unavoidably should assume his liability. There is no ambiguity in whether or not he should get away with it, and eventually the case evolves into a self-awakening resolution to reshuffle one's life from his damned addiction (there is a more-than-enough trek leading into the thematic revelation, thanks to Washington's instinctive charisma, if falls into other thespian's palm, which would induce an over-dramatic and self-conscious bravura just to appease the good-over-evil expectation from well-prepared audience. The final twist is histrionic but Danzel's telling confession is superbly visceral even though has been fermented overlong.

The Kelly Reilly tributary also negotiates through an engrossing damsel in mistress plight, until it emerges (a shade bluntly) with the main narrative, prompts the salvation-evoking meeting between a compulsive and recurrent drunkard and an inveterate junkie, it is not a fatalist love story of LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995, 8/10) although neither of them is another's messiah. Ms. Reilly, a rather under-used British actress, after many years of endeavor in Hollywood, finally grabs a much meatier role in a mainstream flick and she is never daunted by Washington's suffocating presence, infuses a secular savor tallies with the formatively square film.

Robert Zemeckis shoots the most matter-of-fact airplane crashing process except the final collision, when CGI unavoidably reveals its tail, but the film stands unyieldingly on its ground as a preachifying morale parable, its motley spectators will never feel being offensive when it tries too much and many cliche settings keep hopping up, anyhow it is a laudable feat from Zemeckis, whom I feel spontaneously send my tip of advice (definitely I'm not a loner here), stopping meddling with the pricey animation gizmos and going back to the fertile soil where germinates FORREST GUMP (1994, 9/10)


A cinema-going of this feel-good crowder-pleaser from Dustin Hoffman's director debut. Why dabbled into the director chair in one's 70s? Mr. Hoffman had all the means and privileges to kickstart a career like his peer Clint Eastwood, instead, his behind-the-wheel debutant is a belated enigma, maybe it is out of his fondness of opera or classical music, or gallantly to tell the world it is never too late to do something new?

QUARTET is another senior age oriented UK comedy, like THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2011, 6/10), but this time it is not in India, the background is set in a rural sanatorium for retired musicians, who are preparing their annual concert to raise money to keep the house running. The storyline is utterly conventional, as one can expected, the film taps a light-hearted angle to attempt the mirth of the rosy and bright side of getting old, Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay leads as a romantic ex-couple, initially they are holding a grudge at each other, then bury the hatchet and overcome the scruples of performing in public after a long absence, and finally rekindle their relationship (although the progress is tersely depicted, I have no scintilla of idea about how Tom Courtenay reconciles his deep-rooted rancor and Maggie Smith gets over the stage fright of sealing her voice for decades).

Another half of the quartet, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins, their laughter-inducing manipulation tallies adeptly with their personal images, I might lost in Connolly's Scottish accent, it is Pauline's dementia-ridden wackiness successfully steals the limelight. Michael Gambon, as the boisterous concert organizer, has a certain Dumbledore comeback panache in some of his best scenes.

Boy, I do wish Maggie Smith can live longer and shoot more films, one can never be bored with her acerbic wisecrack and haughty "Dowager Countess" stance, it is the zeitgeist for women who can gracefully defy age and stay aplomb.

This is not an ambitious film, Mr. Hoffman may only intend to entertain the senior-skewing classical music connoisseurs with a congenial treat without touching the dark side, a sheer escapist' revelry.


Last year USA-born Meryl Streep won her third Oscar for the portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in THE IRON LADY (2011, 7/10), this year the academy will (seemingly) reciprocate a third Oscar to Brit Daniel Day-Lewis in his rendition of Abraham Lincoln. It's a fair trade, both represent the highest echelon of acting supremacy, a biographical piece of an iconic historical figure is the safest touchstone.

But LINCOLN is directed by Steven Spielberg, an industrial tycoon who has nothing to lose and at the same time nothing could surpass his previous accomplishments. Last year WAR HORSE (2011, 7/10) and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011, 9/10) didn't exactly restore his capability as a superb director, but leading this year with 12 Oscar nominations, no one can argue it is the best chance for Mr. Spielberg and his team to attest their credentials and may be exulted with the glory.

I watched this film in a local cinema, being an non-American and a politics apathetic, the film doesn't grow on me as it should, it has its undeniable merits (an intimidatingly detailed script from Tony Kushner and a first-rate collective work from all the thespians, to name a few) and if its ultimate goal is to reach a more geographically diverse demography, call me pessimist, the outlook seems bleak.

Since the plot is a no-brainer, this is a battlefield for brilliant thespians, like a Shakespeare play, everyone is howling and bellowing, inveighing and swearing, with a scattering of bons mots and repartee. But how much viewers can feel in Lincoln's bones while watching this film? History is always written by the winners, since Lincoln is a valiant winner, whose conscientious endeavor to abolish the slavery may seem to be more like a political decision other than out of a visceral compassion as a human being, his stratagem can out-wit all those brains around him, the film, is well-positioned as a paean to American's beloved leader, Mr. Spielberg has been never so unassuming since his extraordinary career path.

The almighty Daniel Day-Lewis will be an insuperable crest for any actor in the drama range, whose congenital talent and meticulous preparation for his roles can spontaneously set up a bona fide paragon in actor's kingdom. His Lincoln is a mystery, a distanced role-model of the generations, a "perfect man"in almost every aspect, but his struggle and ordeal still penetrates from within. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, luckier than other supporting roles, clinch their showboating emotion burst and excavate their Oscar-worthy depths in their characters, two textbook supporting nominations are well-deserved.

The film is a high-caliber biographical flagship, but film should serve us a bit more than being a (politically) fly-on-the-wall machine to recount what had happened (who can tell what is the truth anyway), and highlight some uplifting moral triumphs, if it can spike its main course with some unexpected cinematic wizardry, then it will be a huge bonus. Nevertheless, supposedly no one will grudge too much if it wins big (e.g. BEST FILM & BEST DIRECTOR apart from DDL's third naked Golden stature) in the upcoming Oscar battle, afterwards, Oscar is profoundly USA-tagged, it has its proverbial boundaries, but who doesn't?

Lacombe Lucien

During the WWII, a French countryside boy, Lucien Lacombe, insouciantly gets involved and recruited by the local Gestapo, after procuring the fast-gained high-handed social position and war trophies, his life has descended into a limbo when he is enamored with a Jewish girl.

Louis Malle's Oscar-nominated WII feature clings on a well-balanced pace, concocts a carefully-conducted ideological wartime mind state from assorted kinds, mainly zooming in on the conflicting counterpoise between French-born Gestapos (there are scarcely any German has been mentioned in the film) and the fretful Jews in French. Also the resistance power as the third party has never been really put a sizable weight in the narrative line (not as in Jean-Pierre Melville's ARMY OF SHADOWS, 1969, 9/10).

The metaphor of the overpowering horror at then is constantly and insistently being dispersed by a motley slaying of various animals, killing birds, dead horse, hunting rabbits, catching a domestic hen and snapping its neck, even a dying dalmatian in the ominously poised supporting-characters-go-to-hell slaughter. All the shots emit a kind of unsettling cinematic impact on the viewers (animal lovers particularly), the message has been unmistakably transmitted, but still not recommendable.

First-timer and amateurish leading actor Pierre Blaise (who would unfortunately die in a car accident one year later) bears a tremendous balance of ennui and restlessness, an archetype of the rebellion youth, without any stage-fright to give away his newbie tag, his taciturn image can last for ever. Another great performance is from Holger Löwenadler, the Jewish father-in-law figure for Lucien, whose dignified integrity has to miserably yield to a adrenalin-driven adolescent's advance on his daughter, an exemplified cautionary tale of the misappropriation of weaponry and power. The daughter, Lucien's love interest, played by Aurore Clément, is a more opportunist symbol, oscillating between subservient lover and vengeful daughter. Among a handful of supporting roles, most of which are abruptly dissipating in the second half when the love-pursuit dominates the film, it could have been a potpourri of bountiful individual explorations, but Malle didn't opt for that way.

The bleak shots of the ghost town after curfew is an indelible testimony of the dreadful terror of the life during wartime, Malle's film outlandishly culminates in a 15 minutes bucolic spree with Lucien, the daughter and her grandmother (an almost wordless Therese Giehse, but exudes great force of hatred even for a dazed glance), living in his countryside house (bombed and deserted now), rendering the film its most telling salve to the young lost souls, one may get a belated palpitation towards our young protagonist out of detachment which for me is the pre-eminent sense through its 138 minutes running time.

Django Unchained

My first cinema-going in 2013 is dedicating to Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED, a Spaghetti-Western spoof colored with slavery exploitation, but with his usual stellar cast, talkative banters, pulp violence, it is an excellent body of work with mash-up entertainment, which safely to say, Quentin's staunch fanboys will not be disappointed, while new blood may also be introduced since it has already been Quentin's top-grossing film in the North American continent, driven by its 5 Oscar-nominations momentum like INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009, 8/10) three years ago (which actually procured a more impressive 8 nominations including BEST DIRECTOR), the international territory will soon be conquered without any doubt.

There are tons of laughters can be elicited during the lengthy 165 minutes, propelled by 3 great supporting performances, the hero Django has been outclassed for most of the time, a belated slaughter outburst only arrives in the last 15 minute. Christoph Waltz's German bounty hunter has a joyous gloss with droll quips which is a far cry from his Oscar-winning role in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, but deliciously refreshing. On the second half, when Leonardo DiCaprio's plantation owner shows up, he outshines the rest of the group (even Waltz, maybe not Mr. Jackson) in his accurate Southern accent and infuses his wicked mien and charm with pitch-perfect showmanship, it is a daring attempt, and I must say I am very impressed. Last but not the least of the three musketeers, Samuel L. Jackson has eventually regained his ginger in another Quentin's vehicle, his vicious stare sets a heinously creepy tone from his very first scene, and juggles with a minion's subservience to mask his man-behind-the-curtain mastery. It is an ace in the hole to designate a black boss to circumvent all the presumed racist's accusation around slavery, Quentin Tarantino is a virtuoso screen-writer and a story-concocter.

Jamie Foxx has gained his best leading role since his Oscar-crowning RAY (2004, 8/10), although most of time he has been subdued into a marginalized sidekick, he and Kelly Washington (who is very underrated not only in this film) does make for a great couple on screen, his Django-spelling scene with Franco Nero (who is the leading man in DJANGO, a 1966 spaghetti by Sergio Corbucci, a film from where Quentin gets his inspiration) is the tribute moment for all the fans.

So, as we all know, it is Waltz gets an Oscar nomination, but I firmly support Leonardo this time, and his acting range and personal knack has been tested and emanated to the hilt through years of versatile roles, I question when a due Oscar will ever come under his belt, his recent taking-a-long-break-from-acting manifestation may suggest he finally comes to the terms with the disillusion.

Digressing back to the film, one can always enjoy a great deal of time in Quentin's cornucopia of vintage refrains and other trendy tunes, when Western meets Rap, the blood must spout stronger! Even violence has been transformed into some sort of comical set pieces when the uplifting melodies are chanting alongside the imminent shootouts. The film is a true Tarantino masterpiece and he always makes it the fullest!

The Paperboy
The Paperboy(2012)

Three years after his Oscar-nominated dark horse Precious (2009, 8/10), Lee Daniels doesn't rest on its laurels and presents us his third feature THE PAPERBOY, an appallingly unsympathetic story (adapted from Peter Dexter's novel) replete with unpleasant characters, this is a fare for hardcore fans only, the rejection from the mass is a big blow to Daniels and an ultra-dazzling cast, only Nicole Kidman gains some salve from her hard champion in the awards season.

The sultry southern air, luscious bodies (Zac Efron in shorts, hey, he is a retired swimmer! Nicole in a low-end prostitute costume with a blonde wig), seedy swamp (with dead alligators), all emerge preponderantly in Daniels' late 60s' retrospective camera shots steeped in a pervasive amber hue, it is a hormone-driven experience with censor-sensitive fodder like Oedipus Complex, graphic sex scenes, interracial gay s&m, cut-throat violence and notoriously a no-contact masturbation titillation (between Nicole and a heinous John Cusack), plus a Nicole-pissing-all-over-Zac eyeball-luring hyperbole. However, if we leave these egregiously upsetting ingredients aside, one may find the story itself is horrendously wanting its narrative gravity, the titular focal figure is Zac, the paperboy, an adolescent boy falls for a surrogate mother figure (maybe two, if counting Macy Gray's black nanny) both sexually and mentally, the boy's coming-of-age thread occupies a major portion of the film, and shamefully, which is also the most tacky or tedious part, the young Efron has clearly been eager to expand his acting bent, but the chemistry with Nicole Kidman can never stay under the spotlight. Daniels also stumbles in his sex-exploitation with Tinseltown's big names, therefore, a murder case investigation about a grisly killer, the oppressive gay milieu (David Oyelowo's character is the underdeveloped foil) and the racial tension are all being sidestepped into an inferior ranking. There are more to be told in the vast swamp, Lee Daniels only opts for an easy way out.

Nicole Kidman steals the limelight with her dishy body and discounted sexiness, her character is loathsome and pitiful altogether, very showy but divisive like the film per se. Matthew McConaughey had a great year in 2012 (but I bet 2013 is even better), his fatalist self-abuse is both wretched and horrific; John Cusack has never been so petrifying before, maybe not even worth the effort for the flat part. As for Zac Efron, the role could be an offbeat one among his repertoire, but it doesn't mean it should be printed in his name card.

A career lapse is inevitable for almost all the directors, Lee Daniels is still a director to watch for, hopefully his next project THE BUTLER (2013) will speak for itself.

Sommarlek (Summerplay) (Illicit Interlude) (Summer Interlude)

This Ingmar Bergman's earlier essay is a dedicative recount of a young ballerina's summer holiday puppy romance with a timid college student which culminated in a tragic accident and the narrative leaps between the reminiscent past and the present (13 years later, when she is preparing her SWAN LAKE premier).

The film is slightly differentiated from Bergman's usual philosophy-heavy, mentally-straining members of his reservoir, a summer vacation in a Scandinavian island, with youth in bathing suits, is a curio to find out. But the die-hard Bergman fans will as always revel in the solemn nuances and formidable expressions from Maj-Britt Nilsson's heroine, whose god-spitting manifesto "I'll hate him till the day I die!"defies any compromise and detour, which could also be Bergman's mouthpiece speaking.

There are many aesthetically haunting shots with utterly perfect structural deployment (which cannot be a surprise since this is the sixth Bergman's film I have watched so far), a witchcraft of radiating the characters' frank and inherent emotion and sixth senses through Black & White lens, the portrait close-ups, the little cartoon on the letter, even the ballet tableaux, all sparkle with resilience of a human soul's elusive fickleness. The wild strawberry, chess playing with the clergyman and the hag with mustache, there are many anecdotes here just for perusing.

Ms. Nilsson captures all the spotlight in the film, although she and Birger Malmsten are quite awkward in pulling off mid-or-late teens in love since wrinkles and creases cannot lie, but it is almost a mission-impossible for any actress since spanning 13 years especially from teenage to adulthood is a great challenge, nevertheless, this blemish can not overthrow the film's majestic study on a psychological case of a lost love soul's selective protection and rejuvenation, although may not be Bergman's best, still a recommendable film from the maestro and furthermore attests his consistency in filmic supremacy.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I have finally watched this critic-panning 2011 BEST PICTURE nominee, its Stephen Daldry's fourth feature film after BILLY ELLIOT (2000, 9/10), THE HOURS (2002, 10/10) and THE READER (2008, 7/10), all four films have miraculously procured Academy's BEST PICTURE nominations, while the first three also gained Daldry three BEST DIRECTOR nominations as well, thus although ELIC broke the ground-breaking record for a distinguished feat among all film directors (e.g. the one gets nominations for his or her each and every single films), still it triggered quite an upset when this post 9/11 trauma remedy unexpectedly occupied a spot inside the top echelon one year earlier. At any rate, a director whose first 4 films are all BEST PICTURE nominees, which has already set a milestone in the film history, correct me if I'm wrong.

But looking back to the film itself, it is an unusually queasy one to watch, first of all, with such a wayward, smart alec kid undertakes a leading role, it ventures into an anti-crowd-pleasing passage to affront the huddled masses' benevolent expectation, and sorry to say that the cute-looking Thomas Horn's flagrantly histrionic performance does exacerbate the condescending request for sympathy and kindness which he endlessly solicits from everyone around on the grounds that "my father died in 9/11 so please indulge all my tantrums and swear words". The film manage to achieve a well-deserved" extremely irritating, incredibly maudlin" appraisal which is even worse than THE READER's unapologetic sensationalization of the war and human conscience.

The hurdles may already root in Jonathan Safran Foer's source material, it is a high-brow tall story detaches from the masses and tries too hard to conspire a tear-jerking fable as a placebo or solace to a country undergoing an awful tragedy, while if the majority of the Americans cannot buy it, what to be expected by the rest of the world.