01. Battle Royale (2000): 5/5
Attending a concert today and listening to Bach's "Air on the G String" played by an ocarina artist suddenly reminded me of Battle Royale. The calm melody with a somewhat painful scent of nostalgia, separation, despair and, yet, the feeling about the eternal desire to live, to love, to be loved of the supreme piece of music is also my forever feeling about the film, one of the very best for the coming-of-age.
02. Rupan sansei: Kariosutoro no shiro (The Castle of Cagliostro) (2000): 5/5
Never knew the character (Lupin III) before, so I could not compare this one with other cinematic adaptation of Lupin the Third. This film is also way too old to compare with other more recent Miyazaki's works (incidentally, the last Miyazaki's I watched is also his latest - The Wind Rises) in term of graphic style, character development, philosophical implication, and others. However, in a totally different perspective, I still enjoy the film very much for its freshness, happy-go-lucky attitude, imaginary and deeply poetic images, and a very fine tune of action-romantic mixture. The film lacked the appearance of unconventional characters (especially strong female ones), the freedom of plot development, and (somehow) the epicness/grandeur of the latter Miyazaki's, but one can still easily find the spectacular landscape similar to other Miyazaki's visionary works, something that is raw but deeply original and imaginative, something that cannot be found, in most cases, in Hollywood flashy animations. Yes, those are more than enough reasons for an animation to be watched, to be loved, and to be admired, just as any other of Miyazaki's fantastic films.
03. Memories (2004): 4/5
A strange compilation of three films with very different themes, tones, and styles - a depressed, psychedelic, and nostalgic "Magnetic Rose" - a chaotic, hilarious, cheerful and head-scratching "Stink Bomb" - and a surreal and deeply allegoric "Cannon Fodder". It is really hard for me to figure out the link between the three, and their link to the common title "Memories" - a line of memories from the operatic classic futuristic past in "Magnetic Rose" to the realistic yet unrealistic punk present in "Stink Bomb" and finally to the past (World War I)-reflecting steampunk/totalitarian/post-apocalyptic future in "Cannon Fodder" perhaps? A strange and very uneven film, luckily enough, still very enjoyable.
04. Free to Play (2014): 3.5/5
Quite involving for a documentary but not so entertaining (for audience not familiar with gaming like me) as a documentary about gaming and the different lives of gamers. A higher dose of drama (the dead-or-alive kind of drama for competition film) might be useful.
05. Chinese Puzzle (Casse-tête chinois) (2014): 5/5
Sometimes I give 5 stars for almost no reason at all, and this is such time. Five stars for all the renting, running, puzzling, for all the cherished memories and nostalgia. Thank you, Mr. Klapisch, for bringing them all back to me. I could not care less about the message about the complicated route of life "à-la-Schopenhauer" or the "meaning of nothingness" "à-la-Hegel", all I care is the kind, lively, and sensitive souls of your characters, as well as the way they enjoy the best of their lives, which are not always full of happiness. This is, in many ways, a comedic version of the Linklater's "Before" trilogy, but with all due respect to the (lengthy) tale of Ethan Hunt and Julie Delpy, I enjoy this trilogy by Romain Duris "et al." much better, yes, far far better. One day, turning my head back, I will always realize some portions of my life here, in this film, that's more important than any philosophical significance, I guess...
06. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014): 4/5
It's not about superhero, it's not about super-villain, it's all about love - beautiful Marc Webb-style love. The best thing about The Amazing Spider-Man (I mean the film) is its down-to-earth tone without any pretentious discourse on identity crisis, fighting for freedom or Hollywood-like political implication. Like a coming-of-age film, only with some superhero and science-fiction flavors, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 works really, really well in depicting a growing Peter Parker, confusing by his parents' mysterious story and other "fighting-for-hope" stuffs, but still able to enjoy many carefree moments and a troublesome but utterly romantic love story with his Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone has never been so gorgeous as she is in this film - and her final short is one of the best IMAX 3D shot I have ever seen, no question!). Of course the "other-side" of super-villains is obviously under-developed and sometime even looks ridiculous (Rhino, really?!), which is a waste of such talent and charismatic like Dane DeHaan (I never consider the Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx as a good actor, and here in this film he proves that I am right), but again, if you consider this film a coming-of-age romantic film, this is one hell of a film, not as creative but equally interesting, warm-hearted, and up-lifting as Marc Webb's first wonder 500 Days of Summer. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and the appearing-everywhere (!) Pharrell Williams is also lively and full of modern breaths. This is a much more life-like and honest superhero film than Disney-Marvel's stuff - a fact that makes me suspect the rating system of Rotten Tomatoes - this film has not even got wide release yet, and its Tomatometer is already down to 75% (?) why a much shittier film like Ironman 3 got super high score (90% something) at first and only felt to the current level (78%, still higher than The Amazing Spider-Man 2, really?!) after a few months. Does Disney do some "stuffs" to get high score at first so that its film can trick people to go to watch? (Admittedly I was also fooled by the Ironman 3's original score, yes, but never again!)
07. The Immigrant (2014): 3/5
A film that is wayyy to slow to be enjoyed. The pace, the character depiction and development, the struggling love, or the fight for belief, all echos Gray's highly-praised Two Lovers (which I did not really like either for its unbearable slowness) but the story here is much weaker (Two Lovers' adaptation of "White Night" is obviously an advantage) and no matter how Gray tried to make his characters look deep, they were in fact shallowly described to the point that the audience could hardly feel their pains, their struggle for hope, their passions, and most importantly, their distinctive personalities and characters. That is the reason why despite the obvious excellence of Phoenix and Cotillard, their love-hate relationship is very difficult to be appreciated and to be felt by the audience. The sudden appearance and disappearance of Jeremy Renner's character did not help to improve the plot either, a character so blurred into the film's storyline that the audience could not get anything, any meaning at all, out of him. The superb Joaquin Phoenix and the gorgeous Marion Cotillard deserve a much better environment to show off their talent, not this kind of nostalgic, old-style romantic tragedy by Gray.
08. Manhattan (1979): 5/5
I normally hate Woody's talkies, and this one is no exception. But I still give this film a full five-star for its exquisite black-and-white look - one of the best filmed film I've ever watched.
09. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014): 3.5/5
Kudos to Brian Singer for squeezing out from such enormous bunch of high-profile actors a film that is both fun to watch and coherent enough to be understood. The film is surprisingly balanced with sincere existentialist messages (in comparison with the everywhere pretentious personality struggle in Disney/Marvel superhero films) thanks to the low-key acting by otherwise super charismatic thespians (too many to name in this film), an authentic yet surreal recreation of the 70s' social ambience and culture heavily affected by the Vietnam war and its immediate aftermath (similar to the way "First Class" was successful with the Cold War environment reconstruction), and of course the surprisingly delight cameo by the foxy and humorous Quicksilver. A very entertaining film to watch but still a typically shallow superhero film (and actually I cannot think of anyway that this superhero genre can surpass its inherent shallowness) and I really, really cannot enjoy the cold tone and over-sharpness of digital cinematography in this film (which is only slightly better thanMichael Mann's below-average "Public Enemies") that somehow destroy the authentic feeling of traditional film. Also, even with plot-holes asides (which are understandable given the time-travelling context of this film), "Days of Future Past" still makes me feel unease with the terrible Vietnamese speaking sequence - really, it's quite benefit to be JLaw - you can speak absolutely incomprehensible Vietnamese yet you are still praised for doing so because you are ... JLaw.
10. Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow (2014): 4.5/5
As a devoted fan of the "Bourne" series, I always feel that it is unfair that the more celebrated Paul Greengrass is always first attached with the series instead of Doug Liman, who set the quick, decisive pace for Bourne's character as well as created a much simpler yet purer action film, which is, to me, more interesting than its two more sophisticated sequels. Paul Greengrass has been indeed a bigger name since Bourne with Oscar-caliber films while Liman was stuck with ... "Jumper" (even Mr. & Mrs. Smith is distasteful to me, but maily because of the unnecessary large-than-life acting by Brangelina). That is why watching Edge of Tomorrow is really a joy for me seeing Liman comes back to what he did best - making pure, simple, involving, and unpretentious action film. Plot-, setting- and story-wise, this film can be considered a post-apocalyptic/steampunk mixture of, evidently, "Groundhog Day" and the surprisingly good "Source Code". But the good thing is any overly philosophical (and dangerously pretentious) subplot of existentialism, which is often seen in time-travel film, was eliminated to save place for the simple but really effective transformation of our hero (the always dependable Tom Cruise) and heroine (the sublime Emily Blunt) from a disgusting coward and a warring machine to two very human, likeable yet truly heroic characters. As such, the repeated "doomsday" becomes more and more interesting as the audience really wants to know how their beloved hero and heroine change from day to day, how far they can go in the quest of finding the "final target", and obviously, how close they can get to each other. Doug Liman did not go as far as "The Bourne Identity" in this film with that romantic subplot, but it really pleased me that the otherwise one-dimension "action heroes" were given some extent to show their humanity, their distinctive characters in the devastating setting of doomsday. Here, of course the ever-reliable Tom Cruise did his job really, really well (he was not bad in the similar "Oblivion", that film's plot was simply too under-developed for him to make his role better) while Emily Blunt is really a surprise with her stunning powerful appearance - I always like her in the "softy" roles, and thus could not imagine that she is that good is this physically and charismatically demanding role. Ms. Blunt should also thank Tom Cruise for under-acting (considering his big-budget superstar status) to give more space for her very own charisma, and Doug Liman for saving the best scenes for her (and not for Tom Cruise) - the scene of the first "D-Day" where Blunt suddenly appeared in the horrendous battleground to show off her heroism is really one of the best images of action heroines I have ever watched. As a fan of Tom Cruise since childhood, I am not an appropriate reviewer to talk about his performance in this film, but, as always, his acting and likeable (cinematic) character are again proven in this film - maybe this is why after three full decades (Tom Cruise took his first leading role in 1983 with "Losin' It" and has almost always topped the cast since then), Hollywood producers and directors still give him leading roles in big budget films, an extraordinary confidence I cannot find in other superstars of his generation (the 1980s generation). Of course, as a pure action film, "Edge of Tomorrow" does not contain subtle message and will surely not nominated for any "artistic" Oscar (even in technical categories, I do not think that this film has much chance, because Liman is not really a director of grand/CGI scene, even this futuristic "Edge of Tomorrow" does not rely much on CGI and wide settings of "D-Day" scale). But it does not really matter, either, when I, as an ordinary filmgoer, did have a very very pleasing time watching this film. Such joy cannot be bought by anything (even Oscars) but the sincere devotion of directors and actors to make the best out of their film.
11. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): 4.5/5
A really, really clever film that represents all the strange beauties of Wes Anderson's auteur cinema - from the bizarre yet lovely characters, surreal settings, to the sentimental ambiance, all wrapped up in a deeply interesting plot of many layers, many twist-and-turns (never seen such complexity before in Wes Anderson's films), and much humanity. A delightful film to watch, but somehow I still feel some degree of emotional detachment, which makes the (quite suddenly) sentimental remarks by the old Zero at the end not as effective as I expected. Well, maybe that is the intention of Wes Anderson after all - making a film for the audience to enjoy (and indeed it is enjoyable, and hugely popular - as a Wes Anderson film) and not to frown (I prefer The Royal Tenenbaums in this aspect - a film that can balance both). It's good to see Wes Anderson still keeps up his spirit after all those years.
12. Pandora's Promise (2013): 3.5/5
Very strong (and a little bit manipulative) pro-nuclear message with solid supporting scientific arguments but not dramatic enough to convince the larger public, I suppose, especially when the filmmakers are so nice that they tried to avoid demonizing the (often stupid) environmentalists and their nonsense arguments. A very good goodwill messenger for nuclear power but still far from a persuasive one.
13. Chie the Brat (1981): 4/5
The film is admittedly less funny than the manga, which is one of my all-time-favorite (maybe they are just the same, but it is me who has grown older with disappearing sense of humor), but it still somehow managed to bring back to me many cherished moments of the past, that is more than enough for a good film. And it became even more satisfying to me watching the "signature" touches of Isao Takahata, from the animation style to music and endless sequences of little, silly stories yet utterly warm-hearted and charming, just like our dearest Chie, who has brought joy to many childhoods, including mine.
14. Castaway on the Moon (Kimssi pyoryugi) (2009): 4/5
A typical "Korean melodrama" with the only absence of an "unrequited love" with a lousy, if not gross, opening sequence (which is indeed necessary to set up the context for the film, but somehow overdone in a ridiculous way, like any other mediocre Korean comedy). Still, the film redeems itself by a charming plot that totally wins the heart of the audience by its genuine way to connect the souls of the two loneliest people in the world. Everything in this film seems so ordinary, from the conventional storyline, predictable climax, and obvious underlying message, yet so effective and so warm-hearted with the superb chemistry between the two main (and miserable) characters. I happened to know this film in actually going pass the island, when my professor and labmate talked about the film as something worth watching, something that can move your heart. And indeed it did move my heart, as a cool breeze so simple yet so fresh, so up-lifting for this hot and stressful summer.
15. Coming Home (2015): 3.5/5
Quite a disappointing film given the hype built up around it, including the "Steven Spielberg cried after seeing the film" one. Maybe the film is meant to be intimate, personal, and simple, but its conventional approach (containing no surprise whatsoever) with a somewhat grandiose setting (the cinematography is superb, though) and a terrible supporting cast (and equally terrible make-up) really downplay the excellent performance of Gong Li and Chen Daoming (especially Chen, who almost "stole the show" from Gong Li with his sincere depiction of a heart-broken human that, despite losing everything precious in life, still knows how to keep the sorrow inside and cherish every single moment in his life alongside his beloved ones). The message of this film is actually quite confusing, mostly about forgiveness, but also about the enduring humanity and eternal value of love, of family, of faithfulness in the time of chaos, separation, and loss. Maybe because some subplots were just presented and not developed (the hardship of Mrs. Feng in the absence of her husband, the broken dream of Dandan,...), maybe many questions were left unanswered (intentionally, maybe, but totally dissatisfactory), maybe character development were disconnected in some parts (especially regarding the father-daughter relation between Lu and Dan Dan). All together, they made the film much less effective as I expected (and as Zhang Yimou intended it to be, I suppose). A would-have-been-better film...
16. Punch-Drunk Love (2002): 3/5
As much as I love PTA's works, as quick as I felt bored with this film. Also a depiction of a vulnerable male full of internal conflicts, the Coen-ish approach of this film (sorry, my idol PTA), alongside with the very good but somehow off-note music, made me feel really uncomfortable watching Adam Sandler trying so hard almost he failed in covering his vulnerability by his clumsiness, ridiculousness and sometime his extreme anger. The problem with Sandler is that he had been (up to the time this film was made) so impressive at pure comedy that he seemed to be unable to drive away his comedic charisma from this should-have-been multifaceted character. I understand that after the heavy Magnolia (one of my all-time-favourites), PTA preferred a light(er) touch on his never-ending quest of depicting humanity and the vulnerability of manliness, but the mixture of comedy and drama in this film really confused me to the point of numbness.
17. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001): 5/5
This is the kind of film that brings both joy and thought to the audience. This is the kind of film that needs, and deserves, to be watched with care, and re-watched for a second thought. At first glance, this is a film in the form of a simple "road movie", in which the two coming-of-age boys discover the real meaning of life, and sex, with a mature and sorrowful woman with a colourful background of people, places, activities representing the essence of Mexico. But the film is much, much more than that - as beautiful and diverse the Mexican landscape and life is in the background, as cheerful and carefree the boys (and partly the woman) seem to be, the film hides under those layers a sincere and caring depiction of a Mexico in transition, where conflicts and tensions are everywhere (mostly between the upper class and the poor, I guess), and also the confusion and loss of the coming-up-age boys at the real gate of their "adult" life, a life that is not only about sex but also about finding the true meaning of "living", about the eternal parallel existence of both smiles and tears - just as the "reflected shot" of one side the boys cheerfully playing table football and the other side Luisa tearfully saying "adios" to her husband. As such, the seemingly nonsense quest looking for the "Heaven's Mouth" is actually a struggling search for "real life" of the two boys guided by the heart-breathtakingly beautiful Luisa Cortes, whose beauty is actually the best symbol for "life". Perfectly complementing the moving story is the superb cinematography that is full of ingenious single shots (a signature of Alfonso Cuaron and his close collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki, which was later pushed to another level in "Children of Men") and, more importantly, many wide-angle takes that capture the raw and exotic beauty of Mexico at its finest. Still, the thing about this film that will stay for a long time in the audience's mind, in my opinion, is its story about the young and conflicting Mexico, as well as the two boys that might have been lost forever, just as their beautiful but empty look, without Luisa - the woman of their life, literally.
18. Delicatessen (1991): 4/5
A strange film, even by Marc Caro/Jean-Pierrre Jeunet's standard, or simply put, a French "Terry Gilliam's Brazil" without the political/philosophical implication. If its successor "Amélie" can be considered a bizarrely beautiful film, this film can be considered a beautifully bizarre film with a very different tone and setting (steampunk post-apocalyptic background with a deadly flavor of hopelessness vs. Amélie's pinky Parisian setting with the warm fragrance of up-beating love. It's a little bit pity that the directors, despite including many brilliant symbolic values to the film, seemingly focused more on depicting the strangeness of the setting and characters than putting more (existentialist, maybe) weight on the characters themselves. Thus, the film can easily attract the audience with its charm and peculiarity but may never force them to think deeper afterwards. Still, this is a very fun film to watch (strangely enough, given the all-over depressed tone of the film) and it's even more interesting to observe Jean-Pierre Jeunet shifting from total peculiarity in "Delicatessen" through charming bizarreness in "Amélie" to surprising "ordinariness" in "A Very Long Engagement" (still, I absolutely love "A Very Long Engagement", even in comparison with "Amélie" - sometimes an "ordinary" film is somehow easier to feel, and to cherish, than a peculiar one).
19. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): 3/5
The first encounters between Captain America and the Winter Soldier were interesting and well choreographed enough for a decent action film. But as the film goes on, the slim plot and lazy direction were gradually revealed through the pretentious cinematography and editing (Marvel and Disney please, fast and abrupt cutting can never help an action sequence better, only worse). Set aside the boring action parts, the film is disappointingly left with a thinny skeleton full of cliché - cheesy dialogue, artificial emotions, and under-developed plots. Still, as what McDo has done with "Quarter Pounder with Cheese", Marvel still intelligently squeezed enough fun to make the film passable, if not enjoyable, to watch. Thus it is understandable that this film earned two times the much better "Edge of Tomorrow". But a foreseeable future full of Marvel's "Quarter Pounder with Cheese" is really really not what I am looking for...
20. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972): 4/5
The opening scene is absolutely beautiful and echoes the mystical ancient Indian kingdom. The last scene is terribly haunting with the image of the "Nature prevails" over the loneliness and craziness of human beings. The allegoricalness of the film is also delicately presented through the, ironically enough, pure madness of Klaus Kinski, reflecting from his eyes and mouth of terror (symbolically and literally). Through and through, I understand and appreciate the greatness of the film and can easily realise the deep influence of this films in other cinematic epics like Apocalypse Now or (partly) Life of Pi. BUT I could not get the perfectness of the film, given the lousy supporting cast, who really looks amateur (by today standard) in their roles, and the scarce props/setting, which are more suitable for a stage play than a cinematic film. Of course I understand the hostility of the filming environment and Herzog's insistence of filming on location as well as the allegorical values of such setting (the immense ambience of the Amazon River versus the fragility of the expedition), but, I really could not get it, I am sorry failing you, Mr. Herzog, Mr. Ebert ...
21. Chef (2014): 3/5
Wong Kar-wai took full advantage of the delay of "Ashes of Time" and its unbelievable cast to make "Chungking Express" - a "small" and intimate film that is arguably even better than the grandiose "Ashes of Time", alas Jon Favreau is no Wong Kar-wai. It seems that Jon wanted to take some time off from the Marvel Universe (he will, actually already has, come back with "Age of Ultron") to make his very personal "Chef". He was quoted to get inspiration for this film from the delightful "Eat Drink Man Woman" by Ang Lee, and the audience can easily observe its influence on "Chef". BUT, "Chef" is no "Eat Drink Man Woman" either with a self-satisfying story that is too lackluster to be considered serious, an amateur cast with unconvincing acting, including the out-of-place presence of Robert Downey Jr. (maybe doing a favour for his Iron Man's director), and of course a confusing mixture of family theme, road trip movie, and culinary film (and by all mean, one cannot simply mix both street food - "Cubanos" and fine dining to bring out a good film about food). Watching this film is probably funnier than observing Gordon Ramsay swearing in "Hell's Kitchen", but the English TV Show is way more cinematically dramatic (yes, ironically enough, given "Chef" is a FILM while "Hell's Kitchen" is just a REALITY SHOW), better scripted AND directed, and way more ... delicious. Yes, of course the film is interesting enough to watch, especially for fans of the Marvel Universe, who crave for anything with Robert the Iron Man, otherwise, you should take a look at "Hell's Kitchen" for a better "film" about food.
22. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1998): 3/5
I understand that this film should not be considered standalone but alongside with the other two live-action films by Mamoru Oshii in his Kerberos saga. However, since I have not seen the other two, I have to rate this film as it is - a disappointing one. The Orwellian setting of the film, which reflects the actual situation in Japan during the 1960s and contains many of Oshii's philosophical traits, deserves a much better story instead of the simple, confusing and eventually disappointing plot in this film. If only the "human side" of the "Wolf" had been better explored and the internal struggle of the Brigade had been replaced by a larger and more symbolic struggle of the fictional Japanese society. Actually everything in this film was under-developed to the point that I even questioned myself whether I missed any detail watching the film, and no, I did not, they were simply not there. Could have been a much much better film with such setting and premise.
23. The City of Lost Children (1995): 5/5
This is a film about nightmare, and its dirty setting also resembles a nightmare with a dystopian world full of devilish characters, garbage, rats (of course, a lot of rats) and darkness everywhere. Still, anyone watching this film must admit that, despite all those crazy images, this film is in fact an utterly beautiful dream - a steampunk dream with unique visual, peculiar but extremely sensible (and likeable) characters, a spectacular maze of destinies and events that seemingly disconnect but actually exist and happen to drive the plot ahead, and of course a touching soundtrack that plays the right note at the right time. The distinctive visual of this film is actually, in my opinion, even better than "Amélie"'s, which is easy to understand given the fact that this is the last and best fruit of the cooperation between Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, which was already proven through their visually stunning but story-wise-thin "Delicatessen" - without Caro, Jeunet could still deliver his poetic and romantic soul through "Amélie" but such peculiar look like in this "The City of Lost Children" was lost, maybe forever (still, it was actually a chance for the general audience, who for sure prefers the beauty of Paris to any dystopian setting). It is funny that the film is named "The City of Lost Children" while I may never forget its beauty, a rough yet innocent and extremely human beauty just like One's Miette. Anyway, why French directors cast Vietnamese-origin actors/actresses into Chinese roles and still let them speak proper Vietnamese??? This is the second time I watch such hideous situation after the (equally marvellous) film of Jacques Audiard "De battre mon cur s'est arrêté".
24. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987): 4/5
What an irony, the most beautiful "Vietnamese" character I have ever watched turns out to be a Thai actress (and she was not even good in her role with her very poor Vietnamese, but boys, how beautiful she is [was]). This film reminds me of "MASH", another (a little bit) anti-war black comedy about the Vietnam War, but "MASH" is a much finer mixture of the comedic and the tragic flavours while "Good Morning, Vietnam" had a lot of potential but seemingly lost in finding a balance between depicting how the light-hearted and funny Cronauer found out the real nature of the Vietnam War and the cruel meaninglessness of the Vietnam War (or in fact any war that the American Army involves, since the "Vietnam" factor in this film, despite its seemingly distinctive and authentic look, only served as a generic and soulless setting for the development of the "American" characters). Of course the late Robin Williams, true to the tons of praises upon his character in this film, shined through and through with his character - a dilemma of innocent vs. cynical, funny vs. depressed, uplifting vs. hopeless, just as the contrast between his radio show in the cabin and the devastating war out there. His comedic tricks seems to be a somehow "dated" today (and thus, bored me a little bit) but his tragic "revelation" and everything in between were simply terrific, especially the sequence when he talked "live" with the young soldiers on their way to Nha Trang (a "paradise on earth" in Vietnam but also a symbol of the "VC Hell" as underlined in this film) - a sequence reminded me a lot of his mentoring role in "Dead Poets Society". The way he showed his funny nature to encourage the soldiers (to die, ironically enough) while trying to cover his utter sorrowfulness really reflected his struggle in real life fighting off depression while doing his best make people laugh, that is really tragic but also very deserving and noble when someone like him can make the whole world laugh while he himself cries inside... (Still, such superb depiction of American characters in comparison with the lackluster focus on the Vietnamese characters - the main victims of the war, is disappointing to me, to tell the truth). Lastly, one cay say that this is the best film for one who wants to remember how brilliant Robin Williams was in making our life brighter. So long, Mr. Cronauer...
25. Big Night (1996): 3.5/5
As Tucci had already been a frequent stage actor at the time he made this film, no wonder why "Big Night" is tightly constructed like a three-act play with very simple, small and distinctive setting, strong focus on emotional development of the characters, and, of course, many conversations and gesture language - which are actually not my favorite since I prefer "eye acting" through close-up shots (that is why I almost do not enjoy David Mamet's works and the early films by Woody Allen). As such, the film is really enjoyable (and indeed delicious with many incredible Italian dishes) but not really admirable to me - watching a play with a short (although very meaningful) story spanning consecutively for a very short period of time (one day, to be exact) with almost no twist-and-turn or intimate moments is no fun to me. Still, the simplistic ending of the film is really really touching, well directed and well meaning - (SPOILER) nothing in the world can be more delicious and cherishable than a simple breakfast of omelette alongside with the one you love.
26. The Wedding Banquet (Xi yan) (1993): 5/5
After watching this film (along with other superb films like "Eat Drink Man Woman" or "Life of Pi"), I realized the reason why Ang Lee could handle Jane Austen's classic "Sense and Sensibility" with such ease - he is always a master of trans-boundary sensibility in handling culture- and tradition-specific stories in a universally humanistic way. Ang Lee's deeply sensible and intimate treatment of the film's subject always enable the understanding (of the audience) about the cultural setting of the film as well as the distinctive characteristics, passions, feelings, thoughts of his characters. Under the hand of another less-sensible director, "The Wedding Banquet" would have been easily made to a tiring over-the-top drama full of tensions, tears and sadness given the very difficult (and awkward) pretext of the film - culture clash, tradition-modernity conflict, "lavender marriage", parents-children struggle, and even abortion. But, thankful for the audience, this "cherished child" of Ang Lee was made with care and love to show how people can always love each other, care for each other, and forgive each other despite all the (white) lies and seemingly irreconcilable differences. As the ever peaceful smile of Ang Lee, the audience always feels at ease watching this film, admiring the meaningful values of both traditional Chinese culture and progressive American freedom. Yes, as traditional as the wedding banquet was in this film, the film itself is a deeply progressive work-of-art with a wonderful touch on such difficult, if not taboo, subjects. Yes, only Ang Lee knows best in making films about what fathers know best ("The Wedding Banquet" and the equally excellent "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "Pushing Hands" are considered together the "Father Knows Best Trilogy").
27. Tui shou (Pushing Hands) (1995): 4/5
The "climax" really caught me off-guard due to its (SPOILER!) comicality, which is simply opposite to the rest of this peaceful, "Tai-chi-like" film (strangely enough, this is also his most "serious" and dramatic films in the "Father Knows Best" trilogy). Still, the tactfulness of Ang Lee was totally intact and his mastery of the family theme and old-new/tradition-modernity conflict already shone brightly in this debut feature (it must be noted that Lee had been out-of-job and full-time "house-husband" for almost a decade waiting for this first chance, and lucky for us all he was able to grip this chance to show off his genius immediately). Still, the film made me a little bit unease due to its not-so-strong cast (except for the late Lung Sihung, who would be Lee's close collaborator and "the Father Figure" for the director's next several films) and the somehow lax direction in some sequences (and of course, the understandable and philosophical but utterly comical climax). Still, Ang Lee really started strong with this film, and the "Father Knows Best" trilogy is really one of my all-time-favourite trilogies with its coherent humour, charm, wit, and above all, humanity.
28. Neighbors (2014): 2.5/5
A typical Seth Rogen film (yes, now we can call them Seth Rogen films instead of Judd Apatow films) with some cheap laughs, lessons about life and love (which are sometimes honest and touching, but most of the time just lame). Watching the trailer, I expected some over-the-top, crazy, and of course obscene fights between "the neighbors", but alas, so few they are in the actual film! Instead, the film is full of cheap film references (yes, they paid homage to real classics, everlasting cult films, and legendary stars, but the way they did was so lame it felt like an insult rather than a homage), cheap jokes, cheap escapist philosophy of "the frat", and cheap lessons about the reality of being adult, of life, of family, which were put so awkwardly and so incoherently in the plot that they (those lessons) just made no sense at all. It seems that Seth Rogen, just like his mentor Judd Apatow, has gradually conceded himself from innovative (but less lucrative) fun like "Pineapple Express" or "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" to cheap (but more audience-pleasing) fun like this film.
29. Locke (2014): 4/5
It was really a surprise when I realized that the director of this film was also "responsible" for the awful "Redemption" (aka. "Hummingbird") - his debut, poor him having such low start. But after some reflection, I found that the two films indeed have a similar dreamy and dark visual as well as a depressed theme of underachievement, unlucky turns that change your whole life, and above all how a Man can, and should, make his choice in life. But "Locke" is a much better film with a simpler but more elegant cast (including all the faceless "voices", because they do have "life" and even character development for themselves) and setting (which is confined in the BMW, but may also include various dreamy roadside views that remind me of the cover of Kazuo Ishiguro's Nocturnes) but a story that is ten times more complex and condense. Such catalytic factors mixed with the superb performance by Tom Hardy (he is so good a drama actor, why Hollywood always tries to cast him in brainless muscle "action star">?) indeed propelled the film into a whole different level than "Hummingbird" - this is a case study on how to make a film that looks simple but is still utterly emotional, thought-provoking, and of course memorable. The only minus of this film is the way the director injected different stories and climaxes to the plot, which is quite manipulating, suffocating and forceful. As such, the audience can think that the film is simple and thoughtful but will actually feel it over-complex and a little bit overdone. Still, a superb slide of life that is.
30. Labor Day (2014): 4.5/5
4.5 stars, yes, I give this 33%-Rotten-Tomatoes film 4.5 stars. Despite the unrealistic plot and the overuse of voice-over narration, this is still one hell of a film with beautiful cinematography (full of green - my favourite colour), simple but equally beautiful story and intimate and sensitive acting by the whole cast, especially Kate Winslet. Oh Kate, only 2 years of her absence and I already miss her ever insecure presence, sincere expression and above all her ever-saddening eyes. Although her role here in "Labor Day" is quite similar to her character in "Revolutionary Road" (they even share the same name! - April Wheeler vs. Adele Wheeler), Kate still ruled the film with her fragile eyes, her apparent, even sensual, desire for love, and of course her glittering beauty (which was even enhanced by Jason Reitman's dedicated framing and angle, just for her) - the delicate beauty of a woman confining within herself while trying to reach out for love. It is a pity that Jason Reitman, as his signature, tried a little bit hard to explain everything for the audience, even the underlying meanings and self-explaining symbols that anyone loves this film (and yes, I really do not understand while many did not - given its very low score here in Rotten Tomatoes), through voice-over, SPOILER happy ending, and symbolic scenes. But the film in a whole is still a very sincere, intimate, sensitive and heart-wrenching film with admiring romance (the first half is simply terrific as a romance) and even a thrilling climax that is comparable with any good action/thriller. The accompanying soundtrack is equally good, which was "turned on" when it needed to be turned on and remained silent why the audience needed a moment of reflection. The simplicity of the film (alongside with its plot-holes, if any) may not be attractive for the general audience, and my enthusiasm for Kate Winslet may be a little too much, but this is a film that needs to be watched for a better understanding of love and the never-ending quest for love.
31. The Pledge (2001): 4.5/5
A film that looks ordinary but not at all ordinary with stunning performance by Jack Nicholson and superb direction by Sean Penn. The profound loss in Jack's eyes by the end of the film is one of the best scenes I have ever watched. The ending is so cruelly pointless, but maybe that is the point that Penn wanted to share with people about the thin line between sanity and insanity, especially when one devotes his whole life to one purpose just to find out that he is all alone at the end of the road with no desire, no regret, just an empty space ahead of nothing to live for, nothing to dream about, simply nothingness like the vast and beautiful but soulless nature out there. Loneliness is really cruel to human mind, especially when it is accompanied by the loss of will to live.
32. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014): 2.5/5
The visual is fine for a summer blockbuster animation, full of colours (the cold, white ice background was specifically chosen to enhance the colour contrast, I suppose) and likeable animated figures (although the dragons are not really creative, they look and behave exactly like dinosaurs in any previous Hollywood animation about dinosaurs). But the story, the story is bad beyond my imagination! Granted that being very, very impressed with the first film (visual-wise and creativity-wise), I had high expectation for this film, but the script of this film is so bad that I was almost speechless trying to watch the film until its end (unlucky me, the ending is even the most terrible part of the film, story-wise!). Plot-holes, next-to-none character development, ridiculous story gaps, you name it (if you are unlucky enough to watch this film). Of course, the story is conventional enough for any summer blockbuster ("Marvel universe" films are no better), but the way the director treated the characters, which were developed so well, so creatively, so distinctively in the first film, to utmost generic characters in this sequel is really really sad. I almost could not believe in my eyes watching the film, that is all I can say about my feelings about this film. Really, really sad.
33. The Fault In Our Stars (2014): 3/5
I really have to refrain myself from giving this film two and a half stars given the consideration that this is decent coming-of-age film, just not a quality piece of cinematic work. You can feel that a film is bad when voice-over is over-used, and hell, this film is just like a visual-and-audio version of the original novel with obnoxious amount of time reserved specifically for voice-over and even text-over (?!). And you definitely know that a film is bad when its cast acts terribly through and through (I do love Shailene Woodley, a lot, but she showed none of her talent and ability in this film). And I have not even mentioned yet the mediocre cinematography and the TV-quality production value of this film! "50/50" is a much better "cancer film" about the will to fight and the will to live, while "Broken Circle Breakdown" is a much better "cancer film" about the ugly reality of the disease and the tragedy of the concerned people. In my opinion, although a little bit extreme, this film is just an updated version of the cheesy "A Moment to Remember". As romantic and seemingly heart-warming as it is, this film does not deserve such moment to remember.
34. Hulk (2003): 3.5/5
It is blessed that I have chance to watch this film in restrospective, after having watched almost all the anthology of Ang Lee and got a much better understanding about his intimate style of film making. Actually I did watch this film, long time ago, but nothing about it remains in my mind, maybe because I expected a loud and flashy superhero film, whereas "Hulk" is anything but a superhero film. In this second watch, I could immediately realize the gentle style in delivering dialogue and directing the actors, whom were required much less over-acting by Ang Lee as they often are in other superhero films, as well as his interesting experiment with "comic-like" cinematography and editting, especially the multiple frames-within-frame shots and the transient editting, which brought to "Hulk" the feeling of an "animated comics". Still, Ang Lee was understandbly constrainted by the superhero format with all the obligatory but ridiculous background story to satisfy the nerds and as many CGI as possible to attract the general public. The result of such mixture between Lee's trademark of creativity and Marvel's constraints for entertainment was almost a disaster, almost. Ang Lee's filming and character development pace was way too slow for a superhero film and the crappy CGI cannot complement such weakness either. The sad thing is that I can see Lee's efforts in exploring the inner struggle (of Bruce "the Hulk" Banner) and the character interactions, but the superhero format of this film is really too narrow for his creativity. Worse, such directing style would probably make the general audience, who had not known him well by that time, misunderstand the director's intention and instead think the film boring, pointless, and lackluster. Lucklily enough, Ang Lee has been able to get rid of this kind of film, for good, to a broader and better horizon of creativity.
35. Godzilla (2014): 3.5/5
Should have been 4 stars if I had watched this film on big screen. The action sequences are superb and deserve more praise than any "blockbuster" this summer (except "The Baystromers", which I have not seen yet) for their tremendous scale, smooth CGI, sensational choreography, and above all, epic ambiance, which is much much superior than the other "kaiju" film last year "Pacific Rim" (and the elaborated opening credit is really amazing in telling the whole story about the origin of Godzilla without showing too much, you need to click "pause" a lot, though). It is really really pity that such awesomeness was destroyed bit by bit by lamest stories a blockbuster can find, with full of utter clichés, cheesy dialogues, and annoying human dramas, not to mention the wooden acting by most of the cast, except for the opening sequence between Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche, which is probably the only "human sequence" that worth watching. There will be a sequel, and this film indeed deserves a sequel, but I do hope that the second part will focus more on the awesome "monster sequences", or at least the writers and director should pay some efforts in making a decent human drama as background for the awesomeness of Godzilla, he deserves such care.
36. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2001): 4.5/5
This is not a wuxia film. More than ten years ago when I watched this film for the first time, I hated it so much for not being a wuxia film, for not being awesome and Hongkong-esquely epic like the hype built up around it at that time. But now, after watching almost all of Ang Lee's anthology, I fully accept it for not being a wuxia film, and I feel ashamed of myself for not opening my heart (at that time) to embrace the film, to feel it, and to enjoy it. This film is a superb piece of art - cinematography-wise, where China was revealed as a heaven-on-Earth with limitless deserts, heart-stopping mountains, animated citadels, and of course peaceful bamboo forests. As sensitive and tactful as any of his previous films, Ang Lee gave his characters a treatment so good even the "bad guys" could earn some understanding and (amazingly enough) affection from the audience. Despite its traditional look, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is an extremely modern film - a film that is all about the desire to freedom, the desire to live as you want to live, and not as the society and the traditional inner tell you how to live. You can never find taboos like inter-racial love, master-student affection, desire over traditional code-of-conduct, personal values over conventional values in Hong Kong films, yet, they exist all over the film, and how beautifully they were depicted under the skillful direction of Ang Lee! The soundtrack and choreography (by Yuen Woo Ping - the most traditional wuxia master, of all people!) are equally impressive but it is the anti-climax yet utterly heart-breaking ending of this film that serves as the catalyst for the audience's emotions, that makes them to think back about everything that passed over their eyes (in the film), about their own feelings, about their own desires that they once had like the lively girl always has. The only, and very minor, uncomfortable thing about the film might be its odd tempo, which killed a little bit of my emotions and affection for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".
37. 22 Jump Street (2014): 3/5
I gave the first film 4 stars for having "so much fun". This film has even a double amount of fun, hilarious, unexpected, and totally creative (I genuinely laughed for most of the film, in fact). But 3 stars are the most that I can give for this film, since it is way way less a "film" than the first one (how ironic that is, since the "film" has a bunch of good homages about the great, and "real", films of the past). Rather, this "cinematic piece" is just a series of hilarious sequences "chained" together through a incredibly thin plot, which is too unrealistic to not be noticed by the audience, and of course full of plot-holes. Of course I understand the intention of the directors to make a fun film with a lighthearted plot that often walk on the thin line of "breaking the forth wall" by being too unrealistic. But the seemingly unscripted and unacted sequences (really, except for the leads, the rest of the cast is woodenly terrible) really make conscious viewer like me a little bit unease. Funnily enough, the post-credit sequence is much more cinematic and cooler than the whole film, one of the best I have watched recently and surely way more creative and interesting than the nonsense but audience-baiting post-credits in those Marvel films.
38. Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014): 1.5/5
After "22 Jump Street" came this rubbish... I felt like having a brain damage, really. Incredibly enough, this is more a "film" than "22 Jump Street", but alas, a Michael Bay's film that is. I really really admire Mr. Bay's attitude of "not giving a fuck" about what critics say about his films, maybe he does not even give a fuck about what are the most basics elements of an art piece called "film". Because if he does, he would surely see that this "thing" is nothing more than a TV ads full of product replacements, CGI and a next-to-none plot. This so-called "film" is so illogical and poorly scripted/directed/edited that I felt nauseous watching it, not because of the pretentious quick edit or the hilarious shaky camera, but because of the senselessness in every single details about the film, which could only come from a very very low-esteemed director who only care about keeping his "style" and earning money, nothing else including the audience. Everytime I watch a Bay's film, I always expect, as far as goodwill goes, that Bay can bring out a qualified entertainment work with at least a decent plot - just like one of the simplest-plotted films of all time - "Avatar". And every single time he makes me disappointed, again and again... The fact that this film earns a shitload of money is not surprising - a lot of people going to the cinema just want to have some fun - but this kind of "Bay's fun" would only lead to brain damage, so please, Mr. Bay, for the sake of the global healthcare, please kindly pay one minute before directing a film to think about the brain damage that your "work" can cause for the public. Yes, one minute is enough for any normal people (I hope Mr. Bay is) to realize the stupidity of this film. And to the whole cast of this film, the respected Stanley Tucci included, you suck, all of you!
39. The Ice Storm (1997): 4/5
The most dramatic Ang Lee's film I have ever watched. I was not prepared for such tension throughout the film, which was poured from one layer to another, from the boredom of living a life full of nothingness that was so extreme that "swing party" aka. "switching wife feast" horribly became a real thing, the adolescent desire to discover life that is sometime deadly in the absence of proper attention and understanding from the "adults", and the destructive force of "malfunctioning" families upon their members. If the "Father Knows Best" trilogy by Ang Lee proves that an awesome father can mend a broken family or its members' broken hearts, his "The Ice Storm" really points to the other direction - how a father can destroy his family by not understanding it endearing value to his very own life, by neglecting the fact that it is the happiness of his family, of his wife, of his children, that is the final goal of his life, not the boring work, not the adventurous extramarital affairs. By that, this modern film seems to be much more "traditional" than his progressive, sensitive and clever "Father Knows Best" Trilogy. This film reminds me of "Ordinary People" (the film that is, unfortunately enough, better known for "stealing" the Oscar for Best Picture from the ever epic "Raging Bull") - another film about malfunctioning family, about the forever difficult relationship between parents and their coming-of-age children, especially in the presence of psychological trauma within the family. But "The Ice Storm" is a superior film - a film about boredom that is somehow interesting to watch, a film about insensitive people that is somehow sensitive and attractive enough for the audience to feel and to reflect, a film about a real "ice storm" that really depicts the coldness among family members, but at the same time proves that they, still thrive for the warmness that still exists in their love for each other. And I have not even mentioned the strange aspects of the film about existentialism, the peculiar American psychology of the 1970s, and the generation conflict and its inducing trauma (the original novel must be one hell of a literature piece)! In short, those who love Ang Lee's works may feel strange about this film, and it is indeed a strange film, even a tough film to watch (given the light-warmheartedness of the other Ang Lee's films). But as meaningful as film can go, this is one hell of a meaningful film, an essential film for anyone wondering why we have to care for our family more than we care about ourselves.
40. Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014): 3/5
Some set pieces are still stylish and comically impressive like the original, but the lazy choreography and cinematography, alongside with the hilariously incoherent colorization (in comparison with the original) in most parts rend such unique stylishness to boredom, mediocrity and repetitiveness. The lack of meaningful connection between the two "Dames to kill for" (Green and Alba) is also alarming. Whereas the first Dame (Green) is indeed poisonously attractive and deserves such "to kill for" due to her superb charisma and haunting beauty (I only wish that Green can have a more diverse choice of roles with her unique prowess and dominating screen presence, but maybe she is unluckily way too beautiful to have such freedom of choice from Hollywood producers), the second (yes, literally!) Dame (Alba) is as terrible and unconvincing as Alba always is. My conviction of Alba's inability to act is dated back to the days she was still "hot", and now, when she is not "hot" anymore, my conviction turns out to be true more than ever. Maybe Alba was included in this film for the sake of plot continuity (her character is indeed the only significant connection of the two "Sin City"s), but she acted terribly enough to become the weakest link of the chain of strong female characters in this film despite her "main protagonist" status. Except for Green, the lack of charisma is also the same pattern for other actors/actresses in this film, even the once-great Mickey Rourke or the ever-dependable Josh Brolin - maybe it is due to the absence of consistent story-telling in such stylish background. Still, different from the majority of critics and audience (this film is a huge financial loss to the wise Weinstein brothers), this film to me is still enjoyable and interesting enough, if we can ignore the always-presence of J.Alba.