some quotes....

I just want to tell you, I'm the one who was supposed to take care of everything. I'm the one who was supposed to make everything okay for everybody. It just didn't work out like that. And I left. I left you... And now, I'm an old broken down piece of meat... and I'm alone. And I deserve to be all alone. I just don't want you to hate me.

-Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, The Wrestler

lundi 28 novembre 2016

One sentence reviews (10)

Phần 5
Phần 6
Phần 7
Phần 8
Phần 9

01. All the President's Men (1976): 4/5

The dry tone of the film may turn off some people, as it does not have any actual action or over-the-top sequence. Other than that, this film is a good example of the excellent quality of the New Hollywood period (from around 1969 to 1979) - a period full of films with perfect cast, thoughtful script, next-to-none fanciful yet useless details, social awareness, and resistance against political correctness. That is also what "All the President's Men" was all about. Having two of the most prominent faces of the New Hollywood generation clearly did not hurt, but the way Redford and Hoffman were selected for two totally opposite yet fully complementary characters really elevated the quality of the film and helped show the everyday dilemma that journalists have to face - be quick (but lack of credible and verified information) or (trying to find the root of the matter and) be dead? Despite the recency of the events depicted in the film, "All the President's Men" is also very commendable for avoiding the unnecessary dramatisation of the fact, and rather following the fact closely by unveiling event by event, character by character to the audience with utmost care, especially regarding the script logics of a journalistic investigation, the authentic ambiance of a biographical cinematic work, and the value of true journalism. Much less dramatic (and with way fewer accolades) than "Spotlight", but "All the President's Men" to me really is a superior film about journalism.

02. Florence Foster Jenkins (2016): 3/5

Not as good as "Marguerite", not too bad though, for a film full of over-the-top actings like this. Meryl Streep is as dependable as ever, but it is Hugh Grant that stole the show with his back-to-form role. Still, the script does not possess the same depth as "Marguerite", and the obvious casualties are the lack of character development (the supporting characters are especially disappointing, in comparison with the very impressive cast of "Marguerite") and a somewhat disappointingly conventional ending. A fine film, but "Marguerite" is preferable.

03. Under The Sun (2016): 3/5

Promising premise thanks to the unprecedented access to North Korea, yet the film failed to impress under the tight control of North Korean officers. The film is way too long with too many repetitions of contexts and activities (when the "double takes" scene was repeated for the third time, I was so bored that I amost quited watching) and few "new" factors. The manipulative shots of the kids are also unsettling, as they somehow distorted the portraiture of the kids, which have already been deformed by the propaganda and censorship machine of North Korea. Some images are pretty powerful (the dark building without elevator of the textile plant, the performing kids with the "5th nuclear test" headbands, the learn-by-heart poems of hatred, etc), but the film in a whole is nothing new in comparison with the depiction of North Korea by Western media throughout the years. A disappointment, given the fact that the negative outcome from this "outreach" attempt by the North Korean authority will surely narrow the chance for other filmmakers to get into this country to make (probably) better films.

04.  Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass (2015): 3.5/5

A film with decent cinematography but shallow story and poor ending. Not as good as I expected.

05.  Saint Amour (2016): 3.5/5

The chaotic opening sequence at the agriculture fair made the film very unattractive and hard to follow, but if the audience is patient enough, they would be rewarded with a heart-warming tale of three mismatched "losers", who found themselves, and understood each other, step-by-step through the simplicity and honesty of the beautiful French wine regions and their people. You can hardly find a more "French" film than this, with all the qualities from tradition, from humanity, from nature, from wine, that once made France the global hub of culture and cuisine but have since gradually lost, especially in the urban areas.

06.  A Violent Prosecutor (2016): 2.5/5

Despite its creative opening credit and a somewhat fast-paced introduction, the film is pretty disappointing with its lack of creativity, twist-and-turn, or character development. A decent piece of entertainment but a forgetful film that is.

07. Sherlock: Season 3 (2013-2014): 4.5/5

Clumsy start yet brilliant ending.

08. Sherlock: Season 2 (2012): 4.5/5

"The Hounds of Baskerville" is boring but "A Scandal in Belgravia" is absolutely amazing, the best episode so far (Season 3 including).

09. Sherlock: Season 1 (2010): 4.5/5

A brilliant opening for a terrific series.

10. Hannibal: Season 1 (2013): 2/5

Pretentious, irritating, a total waste of my precious time! Never again, American TV series!

11. True Detective : Season 1 (2014): 4/5

The two leading characters are exceptionally crafted in both physical and mental aspects. They are also put in one hell of an environment, which is terrifying, mythical, abandoned, and savage. Despite the two distinctive stories lines laid out in three different periods, the plot and characters were consistently developed, and beautifully developed they are. This TV series is not about solving the case, but about dwelling upon the psychological states of the moral-yet-childlike detective Martin Hart and his lonesome, seemingly cold-hearted, and deeply pessimistic companion Rust Cohle. These two rough guys, put in a tough environment with a tough case, are depicted so well (and acted so well by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey) that the audience can feel their humanity, their mental and physical fragility when confronting the inhumanity of crime and the cruelty of life, for which they were not really well prepared in term of human-social creatures. This is exactly the message that Davind Fincher brought to the audience almost twenty years ago in his masterpiece Seven (my favourite) - also a tale about two detectives facing their worst enemy - the existential question of being among the inhumanities. Of course Seven is much more biblical and dramatic (given its nature as a cinematic oeuvre - not a lengthy series of 1-hour episodes like this TV series (frankly speaking, I hate this formula - if True Detective had been "compressed" into a 3-, even 4-hour film (instead of a 10-hour TV series), I would have been much more satisfied - but the two detectives of True Detective are, in my opinion, even more richer sources for creation than Seven's, because Harrelson's Hart is somehow similar to Brad Pitt's naive detective but McConaughey's on-a-league-of-its-own Cohle is a better character (and better acted) than Morgan Freeman's sage detective. If only a small dose of love/feeling could be injected to Rust in the course of the series (and not only at the last minutes of the finale), this character would be even more human, and more compelling, but sometime we can not demand everything... The lesser aspect of the series is its two final episodes, which focus too much on solving the crime and thus derail, a little bit, in character development by making them function just like a two normal detectives in any procedural crime TV series these days. Still, the TV series in a whole is a very, very satisfying piece of work (and of art, really), and of course a much better, and more honest series than the pretentious Hannibal (the anthological form of the series is also a plus, because the audience will not have to tiredly follow the fate of their beloved characters persisting from one season to another). Finally, the music composed by T Bone Burnett (I always love him since Cold Mountain) is compellingly brilliant, a top-notch OST which is comparable to any (good) Hollywood film. [I lower my rating of this film to 4-star due to the much-better "Fargo", which I gave a five].

12. The Thick of It: Season 3 (2009): 4.5/5

The first two seasons have their ups and downs with many brilliant sequences but also some shaky moments, especially at the beginning (due to the lack of chemistry among actors, perhaps) , but the third season is simply terrifyingly terrific, especially the final two episodes, which reveal a very different Malcolm Tucker and an equally different Nicola Murray that one can hardly expect. Still, I think the film is superior (although a little bit one-side in depicting Malcolm) due to its "concise" format (still cannot appreciate the lengthy style of sitcoms, no matter how good they are).

13. The Thick of It: Season 4 (2012): 3/5

The weakest season of the series (so far) with a poor chemistry between the cast, complicatedly parallel plot with confusing script and directing. A more cynical Malcolm Tucker cannot help either, naturally.

14. Fargo: Season 1 (2014): 5/5

Holy cow! This series is so good that it makes "True Detective" look like a half-assed one. If "True Detective" started strong but gradually fell short of its prospect, "Fargo" started impressive enough but went even way better afterwards (except for the out-of-place Episode 2) and ended in an extraordinary note. Episodes 6 and 7 might be the best of the bunch, with many wonderful shots that carry the cinematic flavours of "Leon the Professional" or "The Shining", but the whole Series is simply amazing in maintaining the balance between Coen-Brothers-esque quirkiness and the subtle allegory of the Good vs. the Bad, the Human vs. the Evil. Even better, the film delivered such complexity in a very entertaining way, thanks to a top-notch cast with the never-been-better Billy Bob Thornton, the ever-awkward Doctor Watson aka. Bilbo Baggins aka. Martin Freeman, the formidable Allison Tolman, and almost everyone else. The "dragging" issue of the television format is still there, which reflected fully through a boring Episode 2 and some half-developed characters (the deaf assassin or the "second Mrs. Nygaard", for example), but this series really convinces me that a TV series can be almost as good as a cinematic piece, almost.

15. Wolf Hall: Series 1 (2015): 3.5/5

Similar to the novel, the series have a pretty slow start and build-up and even look less glamorous or cinematically colourful than I expected (in order to stay true to the history, probably, as some frames of Cromwell or More look exactly the same like their portraits by Hans Holbein). The series only really take off from Episode 3, and become terrific in the last Episode, an extremely satisfying one. I often dislike the television format for any dramatic works as it almost always makes the "work" feel dragging, less engaging with poor cinematic values (except for superb series like "Sherlock Holmes" or "Fargo"). But only six episodes of "Wolf Hall" really cannot do justice for the two novels as this adaptation has to leave out many subtle and important details, especially related to Cromwell himself. On the other hand, Anne Boleyn is depicted even better in this series, with beauty, depth, and stories. Any cinematic adaptation of Hilary Mantel's "Cromwell trilogy" should learn from this series on this aspect. And I do hope that there will be such cinematic adaptation, as the trilogy is too good to stay only in this television form of an adaptation.

16. Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2016): 3/5

After an opening that promised so much potential, the episode regressed itself into gimmick after gimmick (aka. "fan services"). The alternate reality was severely under-used despite the fact the Victorian mysterious setting is way more suitable for a "Sherlock" episode than the modern setting, the premise and revelation of "the crime" were disappointing to say the least, detailing of the plot and character development were nowhere to be found, and the cast was unimpressive (even worse, Martin Freeman's Dr. Watson appeared to be a tragically annoying character in this episode). Of course, the episode is still significantly better than any other crime TV series, but by "Sherlock"'s own standard, this is a low point. Not sure Moffat et al. can regain the momentum for the series after another year of hiatus...

17. Loving (2016): 3.5/5

A film with good intention and honest script but detrimentally slow pacing. I was not surprised by Joel Edgerton's performance - he always excels in such "strong outside but weak inside" roles, but the nobody Ruth Negga really caught my attention with her superb depiction of Mildred Loving, who appeared to be a passive and "lady-like" woman but turned out to be a tour-de-force of activism and feminism. I do appreciate the fact that the director did not try to "dramatize" the historical facts, which in many case are more mundane than we can imagine, but the lack of climax throughout the whole two-hour length of the film made watching (and enjoying) it a difficult task.

18. Father and Daughter (2000): 5/5

Almost two decades have passed, and this still is the most heart-breaking short film that I have watched. The funny thing is that probably I have yet been able to catch the underlying message of Michael Dudok De Wit after all those years, but the emotional impact of the film remains the same to me, no matter how different I am now.

19. Michael Moore In TrumpLand (2016): 2/5

Meh, your time has passed, Mr. Moore. The public now is either too politically savvy to be able to enjoy your politically charged works or so politically ignorant that they refuse your message altogether. And even when one can set politics aside, this film was simply poorly, and lazily made. Even in a year of disappointing films like this year, your film still disappointed me, such a waste.

20. The Red Turtle (2016): 3/5

The first one-third is good, "Father and Daughter" good, but the last two-third is just confusing. The film's simplicity may invoke thoughts, but may also make the audience bored to death with the nondescript setting, uneventful plot, and oversimplified characters. Despite its poster and stills, this film does not have a lot of colorful frames either, and thus might easily dampen the mood of ones who seek a bright "Studio Ghibli"-style piece of entertainment. This would have been an excellent short film instead of a strenuous full feature. 

21. Dr. Strange (2016): 2.5/5

Predictably disappointing and a total waste of talents, from the lead to the villains. I didn't expect much, and was still disappointed by the lazy film-making of this blockbuster. Of course the visual is A-okay, but its excellence only magnified the poor quality of the script.

22. The Age of Adaline (2015): 2.5/5

This film proves once again that as a plot device, it is very difficult to tame the beast that is time machine. To resolve the time paradox, this film employed a range of "coincidences" that are way too predictable, while character development was totally neglected (for such character building in the time machine context, "Groundhog Day" is a classic case study). Instead trivial and cheesy "love stories", with forgettable protagonists, unnecessarily occupied the larger part of its length. Of course Blake Lively is as lovely as always, but her beauty alone could not redeem the whole film.

23. Notting Hill (1999): 3.5/5

Lovely film with charming leads. Julia Roberts at her peak was really something different.

24. The Grand Heist (2012): 2.5/5

Funny but forgettable.

25. The Place Beyond the Pines (2013): 3.5/5

The Shakespearean inspiration is strong with this film, but the lack of character development or investment in plot gave the audience a shallow feeling about the allegoric nature of the film. The disruptive plot-line, which was cut into two separate parts near the middle, did not help either, as such disruption also broke any bond that the audience was able to form with the protagonists, whereas the "karmic" connection between the characters of the first and the second parts seems to be conveniently coincidental rather than causal, as it should be. Given the film's extremely interesting premise, such lacklustre film-making really was a missed chance. After finishing this film, I just realised how "The Light Between Oceans" (Cianfrance's next film after this one) could be underwhelmed despite its intense trailer. We shall see.

26. The Intern (2015): 3.5/5

Hey, this film is pretty decent. Despite the endless venture of Robert De Niro into being type-cast in bad comedies and the post-Oscar notoriety of Anne Hathaway, the film turned out to be a fine cooperative effort of the two, with De Niro's subdued father-figure perfectly complimented the bright but arrogant youthfulness of Hathaway. The film did try "to be cool" but its sincere approach to the world of start-ups should be commended, especially given its very progressive but not too provocative touch on feminism and the conflict between career and family. It might get some laughs out of the audience too, albeit cheap laughs. Many things about this film can be considered unrealistic, including its heart-warming ending, but unrealistic optimism is sometimes still in need, especially in such "dark" worlds of young entrepreneurs and old "retirees". One last thing - the costume designer of this film deserves an award, or at least a raise, as not only De Niro and Hathaway, but even small roles of nameless supporting actors/actresses were dressed extremely well.

27. Sherlock: Season 4 - Episode 1: The Six Thatchers (2016): 4/5

Why is the first episode rated so low? I found it intriguing, fast-paced, well layered, albeit a little bit too sentimental. Packed with different stories, and able to somehow detach from the boring theme of Moriarty, this opening sequence promises a season different from the last boring one. Still, we have to wait for the developments of the next two episodes.

28. Trivisa (2016): 4/5
Another terrific product of Milky Way Studio. Although short in length, "Trivisa" represents all the cinematic features that Johnnie To et al. have built up throughout the years for Milky Way, from the extreme yet stylish violence, to characters that are both over-the-top and humanly subtle, and complicated plots full of twist-and-turn, foreshadowing, nuances, and social commentaries. Although longtime fans of Johnnie To's action films might be disappointed with the lack of "true" action sequences in this film, the excellent character development was somehow compensate for that with three well-built "villains" whose "glorious" criminal pasts also served as a melancholic reminisce of the thriving "pre-handover" years of Hong Kong and its cinema, and struggling presence reflects the growingly difficult co-existence of Hong Kong and Mainland, with Hong Kong natives feeling more and more worried about losing their own identity under the economic and cultural pressure from the other side of the Pearl River. Although this film was not directed by Master To himself, its heart-breaking ending reflects extremely well his spirit and philosophy of Buddhist karma, oriental ironies, and nostalgia about a Hong Kong of the past that will never come back. Given the overwhelming financial benefit from the mainland market, it will be very very difficult, if not impossible, for Hong Hong's cinema to regain its creativity and identity that was once unparalleled in Asia, but at least with films like this, it can still linger for a while before disappearing in the horizon of the milky way. Yes, probably the destiny of the "trivisa" would be the future of Hong Kong's cinema, and even of Hong Kong itself, that was the reason why the final and painful sequence of this film must be cherished, for it will repeat in a different form in the near future of the once-prosperous island.

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