Towards the end of the Korean War, on the eastern front line of the Aerok Hills, the North and South Koreans battle over a strategic point which will determine the border between the two Koreas. After it is discovered that a South Korean company commander was killed by a bullet belonging to the South Korean Army, Kang Eun-Pyo, a Lieutenant of the Defense Security command, is sent to investigate. When he arrives, he finds his old friend Kim Soo-Hyeok, who he believed was dead, commanding the troops. Hun Jang's The Front Line is a war film exploring the moral ambiguous and comradery which exists between the grunts on the front lines. There is some anger in the tone of the film, touching heavily on the notion that "Soldiers simply do what they are told". There is frustration in the filmmaking, showing how opposing sides repeatedly battle back and forth over the same hill, each side losing the hill and then retaking it over and over essentially showing how meaningless soldiers individual lives can be. Besides this main theme, the film is really about the relationship between Soo-Hyeok and Eun-Pyo, two men who have experienced very different things. Soo-Hyeok has been on the front for years, battle hardened with little sympathy, as opposed to Eun-Pyo, the more pacifist-type, which in the end shows a nice dichotomy, strengthening the notion that the enemy isn't really North Korea, but rather war itself. One of the biggest problems with 'The Front Line' is that the script is filled to the brim with conventional war film tropes and character types indicative of the genre, making parts of the film seem very stale. That being said, the film does have enough unique twists, turns and ideals to make this film certainly worth watching.
Victor Roth, a renowned German scientist lives a quiet, fortunate life in a small village in the German alps during the early 1930s. That is until the Nazi's come into power, leading to the entire Roth family becoming divided by the sweeping changes taking place in Germany, leaving Martin, a close family friend, also stuck in the turmoil. Frank Borzage's The Mortal Storm is a gripping account of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and the effect it had on everyone and everything in the country. Given the subject matter, which pretty much anyone can relate to in some capacity, this is probably Borzage's most emotionally poignant film, showing the courageous of the few who stood against the many. Taking its time, the film sets up the Roth family as a perfect household, making the inevitable destruction of the family unit that much more poignant. Borzage's ability to use slow, and subtle camera movements to bring out the poignancy and add emotional context to his characters is phenomenal -the bar sequence or book burning moment of the film being great examples. There are many great characters in the film from Victor Roth, a man who fights for scientific truth, to Martin, a pacifist who sees many of his dearest friends turn against him, relying on these characters to show the power of courage in the face of adversity. While I could see an argument made that the message on bigotry comes off heavy handed, the film is able to simply overcome this because the main characters in the film, with even those who join the Nazi party are shown to have humanistic qualities, even if they do become more monsters than men. I guess my only real complaint would the casting of Jimmy Stewart, a great actor no doubt, but a little hard to buy as a German. Personally, this barely affects my opinion of the overall film.
A documentary about Jiro Ono, who is considered by pretty much everyone as the world's greatest sushi chef. The owner of a quaint, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station, it may come as a surprise that this is the only Sushi restaurant on the planet to garner the prestigious 3 star Michelin review, with reservations needing to be made months in advance. David Gelb's Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an extremely detailed look into a master who has perfected his craft but that is not what elevates the film above just an average documentary. It is the humanistic story about the relationship between Jiro and his eldest son Yoshikazu, an exceptional chef in his own right who will inevitably always lie in his father's shadow. Yoshikazu, has seen his younger brother move on and set up his own restaurant, yet Yoshikazu is responsible for Jiro's legacy, as is simply part of Japanese culture. The film doesn't damn such a concept, but shows it in a very humanistic light -making it hard to not be touched by Yoshikazu's dedication and even feel empathy for him in the process. It is rather unbelievable just how sharp Jiro is at 85 years and it is clear early on that this man has dedicated his life to his craft, even sacrificing some of the closeness in the relationships he shares with his family, in pursuing his love for sushi- a perfectionist would probably be an understatement. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is fascinating but be warned, if you like sushi, it is pretty much torture in the process.
A criminal mastermind, Diabolik, has just pulled off a massive heist, escaping scott free with millions. In between planning out his next heist, Diabolik spends most of his time in his secret underground lair, with his girlfriend, Eva, laughing at the world around them. All is well until Valmont, a master criminal in his own right, approaches the police, proposing to help them catch Diabolik. What ensues is an epic game of cat-and-mouse. Mario Bava's Danger Diabolik is a visually inventive film which fully utilizes bonkers production design, impressionistic lighting, and tons of kinetic camera work to create a truly original hybrid film of the heist/spy film variety. This is a lush, distinct world which these characters inhabit, and Bava deserves a lot of credit for bringing this inventive world to fruition. Another great example of economic filmmaking, Bava's Danger Diabolik was made on a shoe-string budget, which uses lots of Matte paitings and inventive techniques to help make the scope of the film feel much larger than it actually is. Diabolik is a great character, who is very playful with his pursuers -using all sorts of unique and creative gadgets to stifle them along the way. While the film is definitely a product of its time, the campyness feels more charming than restricting, as this was just a wholly entertaining piece of filmmaking from start to finish.
George C. Scott stars as Jake Van Dorn, a conservative man whose strong values have served him well in life. He is a man of means, neither frugal nor wasteful with his money, who one day discovers that his precious little girl has been appearing in X-rated porno films. Paul Schrader's Hardcore is a grimy, dirty look into the underground world of pornography, following Jake Van Dorn as he goes on a desperate search to locate, and bring his daughter home. As far as I am concerned, Paul Schrader is one of the most underrated filmmakers in the history of American cinema. Prone to explore and dissect the underbelly of America in his films, Hardcore turns his sights on the X-rated film industry with some fantastic results. George C. Scott gives one of the best performances of his entire career as this father figure. He brings such a subdued furiosity to the role, capturing the disgust, confusion and anger which one would imagine a father going through this would endure. Schrader's direction combined with stellar visuals and sound design create this great atmosphere of filth and intrigue, effectively transporting into Jake Van Dorn's POV - seeing a strange, grimey world which is as alien to him as another planet. While the score is amazing at capturing Van Dorn's increasing anger and emotion, my one complaint would be that it comes off a little too overbearing at times. Nevertheless, Paul Schrader's Hardcore is a great film chronicling a man's dissent into a strange world, in which it is clear that this man's anger and hatred are approaching a tipping point. Essentially, It's a film that is similar to Joel Schumaker's better known '8mm', though far superior in showing a character's strongest attributes confronted by the environment around him.
A film which Harmony Korine credits as inspiration when writing 'Kids', Pixote is a grim piece of filmmaking, which captures the desperate reality of a word fueled by violence and poverty. The title character, Pixote, is a young boy who has been abadoned by his parents, subsequently forced to scour scraps on the streets. How does he survive? The only way he sees how on these poverty stricken streets - Drugs and Violence. The most noticeable aspect of Pixote is the realism which it is able to capture. There is no emotional manipulation of its characters or story, rather just a geniune look into the world of street kids in Rio de Janeiro. There is no doubt that some of this could be attributed to a major chunk of the cast being non-actors, but the style definitely fits the world in its own right. The story is beautifully tragic, reminding me of a cross between De Sica's Shoeshine and Bunuel's The Young and The Damned. If I had one serious critique of the film it would be simply that the pacing leaves a little to be desired, but honestly I was so invested in this 10-year olds story that it barely mattered. Fernando Ramos de Silva is mesmerizing as young Pixote, giving a performance that is just hard to believe for such a young boy. Definitely not a film for the faint of heart, but a worthwhile experience for anyone who wants to see a poignant, yet tragic tale of abandoned youth.
Karel Reisz's 'Who'll Stop the Rain' follows Ray Hicks (Nick Nolte) a merchant marine, whom after some convincing, reluctantly agrees to smuggle two kilos of heroin into the United States as a favor for one of his friends (Michael Morairty). When Ray Hicks arrives in the United States with the drugs, he begins to suspect that he is in fact being followed, by who exactly remains a mystery. This forces Ray to go on the run, fearing for both is freedom and potentially his life. 'Who'll Stop The Rain' is a bleak, post Vietnam-era thriller which perfectly captures the type of social climate which existed after the end of the Vietnam war. Nick Nolte is at his absolute best as the aforementioned, Ray Hicks, a man with a good soul, who seems to be constantly plagued by the environment around him. The film plays like a chse movies, as most of the film follows Ray Hicks and his friend's wife, as they attempt to stay one step ahead of a corrupt federal agent, who is trying to hijack the Heroin for his own gains. The film is unflinching in its approach, never shying away from showing what type of affect the Vietnam War had on so many men's souls; though doing so in a subtle way. I would be hard pressed to think of another film which captures the emotion and feeling around a specific time period in United States history and with a superbly poetic ending, 'Who'll Stop the Rain' deserves to be mentioned among other great post-vietnam era films.
Jo and Bang are two close friends who share a passion for cinema - Jo being a film director and Bang being a film critic. Jo has decided to leave South Korea for Canada, so the two get together for a few drinks, sharing memories and swapping stories about their time on the coastal town of Tong-yung. Sang-Soo Hong's 'Hahaha' is a funny, low-key film in which alcohol, memory and courtship play a major role. Unbeknownst to both Bang and Jo, their adventures on the small coastal town intertwine throughout the story, creating a film that is much about perception, and the equilibrium which exists between two sides of the same story. As the viewer we experience similar characters from each of our main protagonists point-of-view, seeing how they are viewed differently from different point's of reference. This is why the intertwining of the stories isn't simply used as narrative device, but rather a way to simply show the coincidences, circumstances and balance of life itself. Much of Jo and Bang's discussions revolve around love, lust and courtship, as the viewer is given a very genuine look into these two characters love lives. While 'Hahaha' has an intellectual approach in terms of dialogue and structure, it is definitely Sang-Soo Hong's most light-heated, breezy film to-date. While these characters are not perfect (Bang splits time between his mistress and his wife, for example), I think Sang-Soo Hong simply wants to encourage people to be the best person they are capable of being in this world - by reminding us how perception doesn't usually equal reality.
Jeanne, a happily married woman with two children begins to notice unsettling changes to the world around her. A writer, she is working on a book exploring adolescence - something she almost completely missed out on due to amnesia from a car accident when she was young. At first the changes are minor, but soon everything around her, including herself, begin to go through major changes. Her family and friends don't notice any of these changes, dismissing her visions as an effect from all the stress on her to finish her latest book. What unfolds in "Don't Look Back' is a mind-bending psychological drama about a woman ultimately coming to terms with her past. While the film does initially build a nice layer of mystery and intrigue, it is ultimately undone by tepid pacing and a somewhat incoherent story. The end result of the film makes sense, but almost everything leading up to the conclusion feels trivial, which isn't good, considering that it's supposed to be a psychological mystery. While I was expecting much more from a film involving two of Europe's staples of beauty in Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci, the aesthetic of the film is definitely the best thing 'Don't Look Back' has going for it. Actresses aside, the film does a great job of using optics to manipulate the frame, sometimes vastly distorting the image, giving the viewer glimpses into Jeanne's psyche. The editing does something similar with a series of jump cuts using an an overall aggressive style which shows Jeanne's fragmented sense of reality. It isn't an atrocious film but I would essentially describe it as a rejected script of the David Lynch variety.
The story of the Tuskegee training program, a group of untested African-American pilots are given the chance to show their skills in combat, fighting not only against the German opposition, but for their own rights as men. While Red Tails is a serviceable story about the courageous act these men went through, it ultimately fails due to a pretty awful screenplay that has some poor leading dialogue throughout. The film wants to show the racism and oppression these men faced, being very blunt in presenting this point, yet most of these characters are walking stereotypes, leaving the discussion of racism lacking any real soul. There are unnecessary subplots throughout and character flaws that just come off as cliche and unnecessary for what the film is trying to achieve. The film does have some good actors, but also Ne-Yo, whose unbearable accent makes stretches of the film almost unwatchable. Being that this was a George Lucas production it isn't entirely surprising that the film lacks any real soul, which is pretty surprising given the subject matter. The air battle sequences are probably the high point of the film, a little too bright and glossy for my taste, but that is really the only reason to bother seeing this particularly film about the Tuskegee airmen.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.