Category Archives: Drama

Rashomon (1950) Review

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Rashomon

Time: 88 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Takashi Shimura as Kikori
Minoru Chiaki as Tabi Hōshi
Kichijiro Ueda as the listener
Toshiro Mifune as Tajōmaru
Machiko Kyō as the Samurai’s wife
Masayuki Mori as the Samurai
Director: Akira Kurosawa

The rape of a bride (Machiko Kyo) and the murder of her samurai husband (Masayuki Mori) are recalled from the perspectives of a bandit (Toshiro Mifune), the bride, the samurai’s ghost and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura).

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I wanted to watch more films from Akira Kurosawa after watching Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, both of which were fantastic. I set my sights on Rashomon next, it has been said that this movie has been so essential and influential to cinema, and it’s known as a real classic. Having seen it, I can say it certainly lived up to its reputation.

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On the surface, Rashomon about a crime that took place, focussing on who saw the crime and what happened, with the story being told through different perspectives of those involved. I really like the way that this movie narratively unfolds, especially how it is constantly changing with every person who tells their side of the story. I found the plot to be engaging, and it does well at making you suspicious with every version of the story that you hear. The writing is quite clever, only showing you what it wants you to know and when they want you know. The structure is worth noting too, with a lot of non-linear storytelling that makes a lot of use of flashbacks. Its use of both makes Rashomon a unique and game changing movie for its time considering that it was in the 1950s. It’s quite intelligent, well put together, and very compelling to watch. Along with being very clever in terms of a crime thriller, it also has a lot to say thematically. As you can tell, truth and narrative are definitely a big part of the movie, with how easy it is for people to falsify the truth, and how interpretations of the truth can be subjective. However, Rashomon is also about morality and human nature, as well as the human condition. With all this, it packs an emotional punch at the end that surprised me. It is quite a short movie at 90 minutes long but it’s the right length, and despite the shortness still has a lot there that can be delved into. With the different perspectives that are given in this movie, I want to watch it again because I feel like I’d get more out of it on repeat viewings.

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The acting is all great, from the people in the present storyline debating about what happened in this crime, to the people who are giving their sides of the stories. The performances especially from the lead three, The Bandit, Husband and Wife, really make you question everything about the film. Of course out of all of them, it is Toshiro Mifune who is the standout in his role as the bandit. He is very much a supporting character here but he steals every scene he’s in.

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Akira Kurosawa’s direction is incredibly impressive as always. For one, it is shot very well. The black and white cinematography is gorgeous and beautifully lit, and the use of natural lighting really makes it appealing to watch. Many of the camera techniques used here also help with the narrative, for example each of the four people who give their side of the story during the trial face the camera directly, as if we are the court in this trial. The editing also played a key role, and it’s incredibly sharp and puts everything together excellently.

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Rashomon is a fantastic film, and I can see now why it’s so famous and iconic. It is a simple yet complex crime thriller about unreliable perspectives, human nature and morality, which is incredibly written, directed and acted. I think it’s a must watch, and it is a movie that I’m interested in rewatching.

Yojimbo (1961) Review

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Yojimbo

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Toshiro Mifune as Kuwabatake Sanjuro
Tatsuya Nakadai as Unosuke
Yoko Tsukasa as Nui
Isuzu Yamada as Orin
Daisuke Katō as Inokichi
Takashi Shimura as Tokuemon
Kamatari Fujiwara as Tazaemo
Atsushi Watanabe as the town’s Coffin Maker
Director: Akira Kurosawa

A nameless ronin, or samurai with no master (Toshiro Mifune), enters a small village in feudal Japan where two rival businessmen are struggling for control of the local gambling trade. Taking the name Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the ronin convinces both silk merchant Tazaemon (Kamatari Fujiwara) and sake merchant Tokuemon (Takashi Shimura) to hire him as a personal bodyguard, then artfully sets in motion a full-scale gang war between the two ambitious and unscrupulous men.

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After watching Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, I wanted to check out more of his movies, I could already tell that he was a fantastic filmmaker. While there was a wide selection of popular and acclaimed movies of his that I could’ve decided to check out next, I ultimately decided on Yojimbo, an action samurai movie starring longtime Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune. While it’s not quite as great as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo was great and well worth the watch.

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Something that Yojimbo is known for is that A Fistful of Dollars, the first movie in Sergio Leone’s “The Man with No Name” Western trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, was unofficially based on it. If you’ve seen A Fistful of Dollars, you’ve more or less seen Yojimbo as they mostly have the same storyline, characters and climax. In all fairness, in one way or another, Yojimbo has been copied across nearly every form of media, and you can tell its very influential. The story is fairly simple: a mysterious man arrives to a town and plays two warring rival gangs against each other. It’s quite entertaining, and there’s hardly ever a dull moment. The blending of tones is fantastic, managing to be funny, dark and thrilling all at once. The first half is rather playful, whereas the tone darkens in the second half. The humour is particularly well timed, Yojimbo is a lot funnier than you would expect it to be, making it a pretty easy watch. There wasn’t really an emotional impact from watching this movie, it’s mainly just simple fun from start to finish, I enjoyed it for that. The movie also fleshes out some of its characters that could’ve ended up as flat caricatures, which really does add to the movie. Yojimbo is a slow burn, and the plot itself isn’t unpredictable (exact same plot to A Fistful of Dollars aside) but is still tense and entertains throughout.

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The cast are all good, but the standout is Toshiro Mifune, who gives yet another fantastic performance. He plays a ronin that happens onto the small town with two warring gangs, who decides to play them against each other while profiting from it, and of course by the end he becomes a reluctant hero. He’s calm and quiet, suave, and very clever. He really was the original “Man with No Name” character, being able to blend stoic toughness with humour, and playing rough and ruthless while deep down being a good person with a heart. As said earlier, many of the people the film focuses on could’ve been flat caricatures but instead they’re complex, well-defined, fully fleshed out characters. The comedic side characters also keep the movie from getting too serious.

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Having seen Seven Samurai, I already knew that Akira Kurosawa is a fantastic filmmaker, and he doesn’t disappoint here either with his top notch directing. First of all, the cinematography is incredible, framed and composed perfectly, and often times telling the story visually. The action itself is superb, and still holds up to this day. It’s very easy to see why and how many of Kurosawa’s films have managed to greatly influence the modern action genre. It was actually more violent than you would think it would be, especially for a movie released back then. Additionally, it is accompanied by a great score by Masaru Sato.

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Yojimbo is a great samurai action movie, with a familiar and simple yet entertaining story, directed with such skill by Akira Kurosawa, and with a strong and memorable lead performance from Toshiro Mifune. If you hadn’t watched anything from Kurosawa before, Yojimbo isn’t a bad place to start his filmography.

The Ice Road (2021) Review

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The Ice Road

Time: 109 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Liam Neeson as Mike McCann
Laurence Fishburne as Jim Goldenrod
Benjamin Walker as Tom Varnay
Amber Midthunder as Tantoo
Marcus Thomas as Gurty
Holt McCallany as René Lampard
Martin Sensmeier as Miner Cody
Matt McCoy as General Manager Sickle
Matt Salinger as CEO Thomason
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh

After a remote diamond mine collapses in the far northern regions of Canada, an ice driver (Liam Neeson) leads an implausible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save the lives of trapped miners despite thawing waters and a threat they never see coming.

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I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from The Ice Road, from the looks of the trailer, it was going to be yet another Liam Neeson action flick, this time being set on the ice. That’s pretty much what we got with this movie, and I thought that it was entertaining enough for what it was.

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The premise seemed somewhat original, the plot started off interesting enough with it being about ice truckers travelling over a giant ice road to deliver equipment to save a bunch of miners. Unfortunately, it eventually adds this corporate conspiracy and espionage aspect which really cheapens the whole thing and makes the movie worse. It makes the plot more complicated and makes everything more cliched and by the numbers. It really would’ve worked much better if it was just about the truckers trying to save the people stuck in the mine incident and ditched the corporate aspect. The writing itself is very formulaic and offers very few surprises, even if you haven’t seen it in this exact form before, you have seen this type of story many times before. It’s very forgettable, bland and cliched. The dialogue itself is very expositional, and mostly just ends up stating the obvious. The Ice Road to a degree feels like it harkens back to cheesy 90s action movies, unfortunately it doesn’t really have the self awareness that those movies have, so it makes the dud reveals and plot points harder to look past. The movie is also overlong and overstays its welcome a bit, it doesn’t help that much of the second half gets quite repetitive. However I can’t deny that I still had fun with the movie. If you ignore the conspiracy aspect (which is a big part), the plot is otherwise straightforward enough that you can still be entertained by.

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The acting for the most part is okay. Liam Neeson plays the same sort of character as expected, but he’s good in this kind of role. There are two interesting things about this variation of this archetype though. For one, instead of being an ex-cop, CIA agent or hitman, his special skills relate to him being really good as an ice trucker, so that’s a new spin on it. The second thing is that he does get more opportunities to showcase emotion compared to the other Neeson action roles, with him trying to balance a relationship with his brother who has PTSD throughout this whole mission. I do admire the attempts at character development between them, and some of it works. However this relationship isn’t explored all that much, and even the PTSD aspect doesn’t really add a whole lot. In fact, not much is explored outside of the lead character, especially when it comes to every other character. The human villains are all completely forgettable and boring except for one henchman character, and the rest of the supporting cast is underutilised, even Laurence Fishburne doesn’t get to do as much as you might hope he would.

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This is the first movie I’ve seen from director Jonathan Hensleigh, and I thought his work here is rather mixed. On one hand I really liked the icy setting the movie takes place in throughout, there are some good truck chase scenes, and some action scenes have some tension to them. It was also quite good when it came to the tension of the main characters driving very heavy trucks over ice which could easily crack. On the other hand, there isn’t any particular set piece that I can point to as a standout (they all blur together), the fight scenes are very by the numbers, and despite some good stunts, the film somehow feels quite cheap. The CGI is some of the worst I’ve seen from a recent action movie, at best looking like it is coming from the 90s. Despite the issues, the action is good enough that it makes for an enjoyable experience when watching it for the first time.

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The Ice Road is another forgettable but passable action flick starring Liam Neeson. While there’s issues with the writing, characters and directing, the action and mostly straightforward plot makes it entertaining enough. If you like some of Neeson’s other action movies, you’ll probably enjoy watching this one too.

Chungking Express (1994) Review

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Chungking Express

Time: 98 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Brigitte Lin as woman in blonde wig
Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Cop 663
Faye Wong as Faye
Takeshi Kaneshiro as He Qiwu
Director: Wong Kar-wai

Every day, Cop 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) buys a can of pineapple with an expiration date of May 1, symbolizing the day he’ll get over his lost love. He’s also got his eye on a mysterious woman in a blond wig (Brigitte Lin), oblivious of the fact she’s a drug dealer. Cop 663 (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) is distraught with heartbreak over a breakup. But when his ex drops a spare set of his keys at a local cafe, a waitress (Faye Wong) lets herself into his apartment and spruces up his life.

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I watched Fallen Angels after hearing so much about it and I loved it, so I was interested in watching more movies from director Wong Kar-wai. Like with Fallen Angels, I also heard a lot about Chungking Express, there have been particularly a lot of comparisons between the two movies. I went in fairly blind aside from knowing that it was another WKW romance film set in Hong Kong, and it was also great.

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From everything from the story, to the characters, the settings, and the themes, Chungking Express is a beautiful film. Like with Fallen Angels, it is an unconventional romance story, and is what some would call a ‘vibe movie’. It’s fairly plotless and mostly just follows the lead characters of the movie. The movie works best when you allow yourself to go with the flow, and while there’s a number of vibe movies I just can’t get into as much as other people, I was really into this movie. The script is incredibly written, with some particularly great dialogue.  Also like with Fallen Angels, Chungking Express is made up of two stories each of which are different and disconnected, yet parallel stories of people who want to connect with others. The first of these stories is about a man trying to forget his ex-girlfriend, the second is about a cop after going through a breakup. Both of these are interesting, and these characters felt like real people that you can relate to. One way it does differ from Fallen Angels is that Chungking Express is a considerably lighter movie, in fact it was more light-hearted than I imagined it would be. Something clear from both movies alone though is that Wong Kar-wai really knows how to capture love. It’s delightful and charming without falling into cliches and conventions, and is just really honest in depicting the ups and downs of love. It’s equal parts melancholic and happy, and I loved the dreamy atmosphere throughout the film.

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The movie is made even better with the poignant and memorable characters, and the wonderful performances for them. Brigitte Line, Tony Leung, Faye Wong and Takeshi Kaneshiro are the main actors in the movies, and each of them are excellent in their respective roles.

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Wong Kar-wai is a fantastic filmmaker just looking at Chungking Express and Fallen Angels alone. His directing style is so messy, yet so inventive and creative. The cinematography is beautiful and the whole movie is a visual feast. Much of the movie is shot in a handheld way and it really fitted the movie. WKW also really portrays the setting of the movie greatly, it’s incredibly well lit and vibrant, every frame dripping with warmth. The use of music was also great, from the score to the memorable soundtrack. California Dreamin is particularly a song that is used so many times in this one movie, it should get annoying but it actually works for the story (although it will be stuck in your head for a while afterwards).

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Chungking Express is another heartfelt romance movie from Wong Kar-wai. The cast are amazing in their parts, both main stories were engaging, and the direction and handling made it a visual delight and a dream-like experience that you can get caught up in. I can’t tell for sure if I like this or Fallen Angels more, but whatever the case, if you haven’t seen them, check them out.

Fallen Angels (1995) Review

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Fallen Angels

Time:  96 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Leon Lai as Wong Chi-ming/Killer
Michelle Reis as Killer’s agent
Takeshi Kaneshiro as Ho Chi-mo/He Zhiwu
Charlie Yeung as Charlie/Cherry
Karen Mok as Punkie/Blondie/Baby
Director: Wong Kar-wai

An assassin, his boss, an entrepreneur and two women cross paths in Hong Kong as their professional and love lives collide and influence each other, mostly without their knowledge.

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I had heard of Fallen Angels, I was seeing images from the movie floating around online, and kept hearing that it’s a really good movie. I really didn’t know much about it going in, I just knew that it was a crime romance movie, it was set in Hong Kong, and the director also made plenty of other movies that focus on relationships. So I went in fairly blind and I was quite surprised by what I saw, it really did live up to all the love.

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Fallen Angels has a unique narrative structure, with the two stories in the forefront being loosely connected in some way. The plot is also bit loose, it is definitely more character centric, but that works strongly and thankfully the characters themselves are interesting and fleshed out. They have their own struggles, ambitions and ways to live. They are lonely, relatable and you get invested in their stories. Along with the movie following these characters, the movie really contemplates and meditates on loneliness, relationships, love and the search for partnership through these stories. The setting these stories exist in have this seedy and dark vibe, and the stories are fully of despair, hopeless romanticism and emotion. From beginning to end, the movie has this constant feeling of melancholy. At the same time, the movie can be also eccentric and surprisingly funny. I found myself being quite engaged with the characters and their stories, and seeing where they would go next.

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The acting is another strong point in the movie, the cast are all great, especially Leon Lai, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Michelle Reis. Each actor gives such a strong and powerful performance, and each character is so quirky and memorable, the way they each interact and the world they live in is just so human yet so surreal. They really portray their characters perfectly.

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The direction from Wong Kar-wai is great, this is the first of his movies I’ve seen but I love his style even from this one movie alone. What’s immediately noticeable is the visual style, which is unique and nothing like any other movie I’ve seen. The movie is really atmospheric, being dream-like and detached, while having moments of tension and brutal violence. The cinematography from Christopher Doyle is unique; this movie is bursting with colour, and the use of neon and artificial lights and the setting of scenes at night gives the movie a gritty, harsh, dirty, and noir-esque feeling. Additionally, there’s a lot of kinetic and energetic large sweeping motions through, corridors, stairways, tunnels and more to deliver a dizzying experience (in a good way). The handheld shakiness brings a really exciting element to the film, especially during the scenes involving action. There isn’t a whole lot of action, but those scenes are filmed excellently. The stylish editing with seamless cuts really suits the overall vibe of the rest of the movie. I also loved the soundtrack, and the music choices were great, often having this soft jazzy vibe to it and it only added to the atmosphere.

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Fallen Angels is a visually gorgeous and energetic experience of a movie. The stylised direction is outstanding, and the storylines are engaging, with some interesting and memorable characters. It’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already. I do want to come back to this movie sometime, even just to experience the atmosphere and general vibe of the movie again.

The Courier (2021) Review

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The Courier

Time: 112 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne
Merab Ninidze as Colonel Oleg Penkovsky
Rachel Brosnahan as Emily Donovan
Jessie Buckley as Sheila Wynne
Angus Wright as Dickie Franks
Director: Dominic Cooke

The true story of a British businessman (Benedict Cumberbatch) unwittingly recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history. Forming an unlikely partnership with a Soviet officer (Merab Ninidze) hoping to prevent a nuclear confrontation, the two men work together to provide the crucial intelligence used to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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I heard some good things about The Courier. It was a cold war spy thriller that had a good cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch leading the movie, and it looked goo from the trailer, so I was interested in checking it out. The Courier was a conventional but solid true story spy thriller that is well worth a watch.

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The Courier is the true story of a salesman turned spy during the Cold War in the early 1960s, and while I know that some people might not be interested in the movie by that description alone, I think the movie is quite accessible on the whole. It keeps things simple, by not getting bogged down by all the details and spy jargon, it makes the movie more streamlined and enjoyable to watch. Along with that, the pacing works quite well. It’s not fast paced by any means; it is on the slower side but done in a thoughtful way that slowly builds up the tension. However, it is also faster than expected considering movies of this specific genre, and doesn’t outstay its welcome, at a runtime of an hour and 50 minutes long. I found the story to be quite interesting, and the script itself was well written. It was clever, witty, it has the right amount of humour and seriousness throughout to make it entertaining to watch, and the dramatic beats worked for me. It does seem to repeating itself to a degree for most of the movie, until it changes into being something different in the third act, which I thought was strong. The friendship between the lead character (played by Cumberbatch) and the Russian spy, two people on the opposite side of the political divide, was particularly compelling to watch. Definitely one of the strongest aspects of the movie. The Courier is a cold war thriller, and as that doesn’t really do anything special to break the mould. It is conventional and similar to other movies about wartime unsung heroes that are intended snag Oscar nominations. However, I was still invested the entire time, so that wasn’t a problem for me.

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The acting is a shining point in the movie. First of all, there’s Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role as the salesman who becomes a spy. This is his best performance since the Imitation Game, and for the most part, he is quite understated. His performance doesn’t just fall back into his bag of snarky tricks as in Sherlock Holmes or many of his other roles. His performance is nuanced and believable, and he particularly shines in the final act. Another great and heartfelt performance is from Merab Ninidze as the Russian spy, working at the same level as Cumberbatch. Some of the acting elevated a lot of their material, both Jessie Buckley and Rachel Brosnahan are in rather thankless roles but do a lot to make up for it. Buckley particularly plays the stock role of “wife who worries about husband” in this sort of movie, however gives a lot in her scenes.

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Dominic Cooke’s direction is pretty solid. It is very well shot and has a nice sharp look to it, with some excellent lighting. The costumes and production designs work for the time period as expected, and there’s a great and suspenseful score from Abel Korzeniowski. If there are any flaws in terms of the technical level, it’s the editing, especially in the first half. Occasionally it feels like its cutting short some of the scenes.

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As far as “based on a real story” Oscar Bait movies set in the Cold War era goes, The Courier is on the more exciting end. Clearly a lot of the movie was handled with care, the story is familiar and conventional but compelling and interesting nonetheless, it’s well shot, and the performances are great, particularly from Cumberbatch, Ninidze and Buckley. I think it’s worth checking out.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Review

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Time: 135 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] contains violence
Cast:
Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary
François Truffaut as Claude Lacombe
Teri Garr as Ronnie Neary
Melinda Dillon as Jillian Guiler
Director: Steven Spielberg

Although aliens begin to make their presence felt to humans, the government denies their existence. However, when Roy (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrical lineman, encounters a UFO, he is drawn to the Wyoming wilderness.

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I have heard of Close Encounters of the Third Kind for a while. I knew that it was one of Steven Spielberg’s first movies, it’s about aliens coming to Earth, and it is known as a sci-fi classic. So, I’ve been wanting to check it out for some time. Eventually I did, and unfortunately it just didn’t work for me like it did for many other people. There were some things I liked but I couldn’t get into it overall.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind actually started off quite well, I do like how Spielberg decided to focus on how people would realistically react to first contact from alien life forms rather than the aliens and the visual spectacle of it. However, after the first 20 minutes the movie really fell off for me. Although the movie is sort of about aliens coming to Earth, most of the movie focuses on main character Roy, played by Richard Dreyfuss, and what happens as a result of his close encounter with aliens. That sounds interesting on paper, but it basically just boils down to him going crazy and having a breakdown, begins throwing garbage into his house, stealing from his neighbours, and all around just driving his wife and kids away from him. The movie went from fun, creepy, eerie alien scenes to Richard Dreyfuss heaving dirt through a window and losing his mind. The story didn’t suck me in at all, if you remove Richard Dreyfuss’s storyline, the movie is mostly just constant scenes of people just discussing UFOs and aren’t particularly engaging. None of the characters are interesting or likable so it’s pretty hard to follow along with them, and unfortunately we are stuck mainly focusing on the worst character of them all. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is also known for its special effects and the majority of these big moments are in the third act, which is when stuff actually starts happening. While it was nice seeing these effects, it didn’t feel satisfying. What happens in the climax didn’t really make sense, and it leaves many questions unresolved. I’m all for ambiguity for the end of a movie, but after sitting through 2 hours’ worth of vague science fiction stuff and the protagonist going crazy, I was hoping for more of a payoff beyond a pretty light show. The movie is very slowly paced, and it came across as rather drab and uneventful, probably because not much actually happens in the movie. It’s not helped by the movie being way too long, well over 2 hours. There are a few engaging scenes, but it feels like much of the movie has a lot of filler.

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There’s not a lot to say about with the acting, it’s generally fine albeit forgettable and one note. Richard Dreyfuss is alright in the lead role, again the character he plays is rather annoying and unlikable, but that’s more to do with the writing than him.

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As I said previously, Steven Spielberg directed this movie, and in all fairness, the technical aspects are definitely the most impressive part of the movie. The visual effects are impressive, especially for the late 70s. It certainly would’ve been a spectacle to watch in 1977 and considering the time it was probably the best that cinema had to offer visually. The effects throughout the whole climax were particularly standout. There are also a few eerie and thrilling scenes that were actually directed quite well. The score from John Williams is good as to be expected from him.

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Unfortunately, I’m just couldn’t get into Close Encounters of the Third Kind at all. Despite some great visuals especially for the time, the story was rather dull and the characters were bland or annoying, both of which were trying my patience throughout. It was one of my least favourite movies from Spielberg. With that being said, with it being considered a classic I do think it is probably worth watching at some point, and I’m aware I’m in the minority of people who didn’t really like the movie.

Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut (2005) Review

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Kingdom of Heaven

Time:
144 Minutes (Theatrical Cut)
194 Minutes (Director’s Cut)
Age Rating: 860949[1] 
Cast:
Orlando Bloom as Balian of Ibelin
Eva Green as Sibylla of Jerusalem
Jeremy Irons as Raymond III of Tripoli (“Tiberias”)
David Thewlis as The Hospitaller
Brendan Gleeson as Raynald of Châtillon (“Reynald”)
Marton Csokas as Guy de Lusignan
Edward Norton as King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem
Michael Sheen as Priest
Liam Neeson as Barisan of Ibelin (“Godfrey”)
Director: Ridley Scott

In the twelfth century, blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) travels to Jerusalem, a city seething with religious wars. He transforms into a defending warrior who saves the city and its people.

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I have heard about Kingdom of Heaven for a while, mainly about it being another historical epic from director Ridley Scott. I also heard that it’s one of the most infamous instances where the director’s cut is far better than the theatrical cut, with the latter reportedly removing so many important parts from the film. So I sought out the Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven and I’m prepared to say that it’s one of my all time favourite films from Ridley Scott, which is quite something considering his filmography.

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Kingdom of Heaven was a very well-crafted historical epic, it does have fictionalised events but that’s to be expected from most big budget Hollywood historical epics (especially those directed by Ridley Scott). The large scale of this movie is impressive, and the story is grippingly told with high stakes very apparent throughout. It has a complex plot with many well thought out characters and plotlines and with the director’s cut at least, I think it was put together well. On one hand the film is a classic tale about an individual who rises to become something great, but it’s also a movie about the Crusades. I don’t know much about the subject matter but the Crusades sound like a fascinating historical period, so that was interesting to watch. One of the most surprising parts of the movie is that it does a great job at depicting both sides of the fight equally, with Islam and Christianity being represented fairly. It would have been easy to pick one side over the other, but it’s a well balanced telling of both religious sides. It is particularly powerful when you consider this holy war conflict is framed against a post 9/11 backdrop with the film being released 2 years into the Iraq War. And thinking about it, this is probably one of the many reasons why Kingdom of Heaven wasn’t liked by some when it came out. There’s a lot to this movie thematically, especially about hope and redemption, and it has a very humanist view on religion and life in general. The director’s cut includes 45 minutes of extra footage compared to the theatrical cut. I can’t speak for myself about how much the differences matter since I never watched the theatrical cut, but I heard the extended scenes flesh out many of the supporting characters and storylines. As I said before it is a complex and long movie, making it 3 hours long. However I think the runtime was worth it to tell a story of this magnitude. The movie takes its time, it has many subplots it juggles but takes time to develop them and the characters and it really pays off.

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Kingdom of Heaven has one of the best casts I’ve seen in a movie and overall there are some strong performances playing well realised characters. The cast includes Michael Sheen, Brendan Gleeson, Eva Green, Marton Csokas and many more. For me the standouts were Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis, Edward Norton (as a character whose face is never seen yet gives a scene stealing performance), and Ghassan Massoud. The one cast member I hadn’t mentioned yet is the actor who plays the lead character, Orlando Bloom. His performance has been criticised by many, potentially partly due to his cut scenes. He definitely pales when put alongside the other actors in the movie and better actors could’ve been cast in his part. However I do think Bloom gives a really good performance, definitely the best I’ve seen from him.

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Ridley Scott’s movies are generally impressive on a technical level and Kingdom of Heaven is no exception. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, it’s possibly one of the best looking movies that Scott has made. You really feel the sense of scale with this movie, the production design and costumes are top notch, and get you completely immersed within this time period. As a spectacle it doesn’t disappoint, with some intense battle and action sequences which hold up well today, including the CGI. Finally there’s the great score from Harry Gregson-Williams, which could very well be the best I’ve heard from him.

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The Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven is a fantastic historical epic that’s worthy of being placed among the best. The stellar cast are fantastic in their parts, Ridley Scott’s direction is top notch, and the story is complex and with compelling characters. Of course if you are going to watch it, make sure to watch the director’s cut, it’s pretty much universally accepted by everyone who’s watched it as the definitive version of the film.

The Tomorrow War (2021) Review

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The Tomorrow War

Time: 138 Minutes
Cast:
Chris Pratt as James Daniel “Dan” Forester Jr.
Yvonne Strahovski as Colonel Muri Forester
J.K. Simmons as James Daniel Forester Sr.
Betty Gilpin as Emmy Forester
Sam Richardson as Charlie
Edwin Hodge as Dorian
Director: Chris McKay

The world is stunned when a group of time travellers arrive from the year 2051 to deliver an urgent message: thirty years in the future, mankind is losing a global war against a deadly alien species.

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I had seen The Tomorrow War advertised a lot, an Amazon Prime sci-fi movie starring Chris Pratt. I wasn’t that interested in it initially, it looked a fairly generic sci-fi action movie about an alien invasion. Still, I heard that some people liked it, so I decided to check it out. It has its issues, but it was better than I expected it to be.

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A lot of the writing for The Tomorrow War is quite generic, but it was better than I thought it would be. The story is reasonably easy to follow, and it had more heart than I expected, with good character drama which doesn’t feel forced and elevates the movie a bit. The dramatic and tragic moments don’t quite have the desired impact that they could have, but again it was more than I was expecting. Really this aspect with the drama without spoiling anything is really the most surprising aspect of the movie. The rest of it isn’t anything special, which is disappointing because it actually had a lot of potential to be more. The premise is quite interesting, but they don’t really do much with it, and by the end of it is only just Chris Pratt vs Aliens. The writing involving time travel is rather lazy, and there are certain points where you don’t want to think too hard about the story because you’ll notice how convenient many of the events and plot points are. A lot of the characters aren’t that special, the protagonist is the only person here that gets fleshed out enough. Some of the side characters move in and out of the plot like they’re passing back and forth through a revolving door, a few of them are interesting but we don’t get much time to learn about them. There are some long action sequences, and it seems like that was the main focus, thankfully the film delivers on those. Despite the drama in the film, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and you can have fun with it. There’s a number of jokes in the movie, most of them don’t work but are fine enough. It can have some bad dialogue but you can get past them. The movie is quite long at 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and it’s at least 20 minutes too long. The pacing works at some points and doesn’t work at others. Some scenes drag on a bit but the pacing isn’t terrible.

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Chris Pratt in this movie is just playing Chris Pratt, much like many of his other film appearances. To be fair, he was better than I thought he would be. He’s not great, but he delivered the role just well enough for me to follow along with him as the protagonist. Yvonne Strahovski was really good, Sam Richardson is funny and entertaining whenever he’s on screen, and J.K. Simmons makes his presence felt despite his limited screentime. Betty Gilpin is in this movie as Chris Pratt’s wife, she is rather underutilised but does a lot in her scenes. I know that I’m not the only one to think this, but I think that the movie would be a lot better if the two of them switched roles.

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The director of the movie is Chris McKay, who previously made The Lego Batman movie. This makes The Tomorrow War his live action debut, and it was pretty good. Amazon put a lot of money into this movie and you can definitely tell, it certainly looks very expensive. The visuals are stunning and on the whole, the movie is very well shot. The special effects generally work, though the climax goes particularly CGI heavy, and some of the effects look a little odd in places. There is a lot of action, with some fun and satisfying set pieces, I think there’s enough good action to make it worth watching for that alone. The action definitely has some issues, there are some periods where characters would continuously fire endless amounts of bullets without reloading, an example being in the first half of the movie where characters descend stairs and keep shooting at aliens without reloading. Speaking of which, the aliens are one of the highlights of the film. There are plenty of sci-fi alien invasion movies and with the movie seeming quite typical of the sub-genre, I wrote off the aliens pretty early on. That is until they actually appeared on screen. Not only was the alien reveal done very well along with the effective build up, but their designs and movements were well done, and they managed to be threatening and dangerous. The score from Lorne Balfe does feel a bit derivative of other sci-fi scores but was a nice addition, and it does add a lot to the action scenes.

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The Tomorrow War is another typical sci-fi alien invasion movie and unfortunately doesn’t become more than that. However some of the performances, the action, and even some of the drama makes the movie a decent and enjoyable viewing. So if you enjoy sci-fi action movies, it might be worth a watch.

Joint Security Area (2000) Review

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Joint Security Area

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Lee Young-ae as Maj. Sophie E. Jean
Lee Byung-hun as Sgt. Lee Soo-hyuk
Song Kang-ho as Sgt. Oh Kyung-pil
Kim Tae-woo as Pvt. Nam Sung-sik 
Shin Ha-kyun as Pvt. Jung Woo-jin
Director: Park Chan-wook

Two North Korean soldiers are killed in the border area between North and South Korea, prompting an investigation by a neutral body. Sgt. Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun) is the shooter, but lead investigator Maj. Sophie E. Jean (Lee Young-ae), a Swiss-Korean woman, receives differing accounts from the two sides. Lee claims he fired in self-defense after getting wounded, while a North Korean survivor (Song Kang-ho) says it was a premeditated attack — leaving Jean with her work cut out for her.

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Joint Security Area was one of the last Park Chan-wook films that I needed to get around to watching. All I knew about it was the director (and it’s one of his earlier movies), and that Song Kang-ho was in it. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it, but it was better than I thought it would be, genuinely great.

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Joint Security Area is one of Park Chan-wook’s least extravagant movies in terms of plot, but this might actually be one of his best scripts and overall narratives. At first the movie starts as a murder mystery where the goal is to find the explanation for a killing where the perpetuator is known but the motive is missing. The setup starts off being pretty familiar outside of the setting and circumstances, but after the first 20 minutes it stops seeming procedural and the focus starts to shift to some flashbacks to the events leading up to the incident. I won’t go into too much depth about what it gets into because I went in not knowing what to expect and was surprised when I found out what the movie is really about. The movie takes place in the Joint Security Area in the Korean DMZ which separates North and South Korea. The representation of both North and South is actually even handed, especially with the characterisation. It isn’t the deepest or politically charged film but it is quite thought provoking. It gets at the heart of the pointlessness of war, and particularly reflects on the generational battle between the North and South. Like most of Park’s movies it is filled with humour, even the darkest of his films. However instead of dark comedy, this time its more innocent and pure. The story is surprisingly emotional and hits hard particularly at the end, but it’s also a very moving and hopeful movie. The move is slower paced but that didn’t take away too much from it, especially once it went into the flashbacks. The movie does have its issues. Some of the investigation scenes could have been a bit more interesting or stylised in some way. The flashbacks leading up to the event were definitely holding my interest more and when it cut back to the present-day scenes, while I didn’t dislike them, I wanted to go back to the other storyline.

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The acting is also great, you feel the level of emotion in this movie because you care about the characters and the relationships between them are believable. The main cast are rather well known South Korean actors in Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Lee Yeong-ae and Shin Ha-kyun. All of them play their parts really well but for me the two standout performers were Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hun as they portray North and South Korean soldiers respectively. Song was particularly fantastic in his very nuanced performance, and he elevates any scene that he’s in. In terms of flaws, Lee Yeong-ae is good in her part, though it does feel like her character doesn’t get much to do in this movie despite playing the role of the lead investigator looking into the central incident of the movie. It’s likely because like much of that plotline, she’s overshadowed by the flashback sequences.

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This is one of Park Chan-wook’s first movies, and he already showed himself to be a great director with this one film alone, even before the revenge films that really made him known. The direction is snappy throughout, he manages to get a lot from a fairly straightforward story here. Everything on the technical level is great, the cinematography is great and its well shot, and the production design and costumes are top notch.

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Joint Security Area is another great film from Park Chan-wook. Along with the excellent direction and the superb acting from everyone, the story was surprisingly emotional and easy to get invested in, as was the characters it follows. Definitely check it out, especially if you like any of Park’s other movies.