Film Reviews by PJ

Welcome to PJ's film reviews page. PJ has written 53 reviews and rated 53 films.

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Eyes Wide Shut

An esoteric and erotic journey into the New York night

(Edit) 13/01/2020

Dr. Bill (Tom Cruise) and Alice (Nicole Kidman) Harford live in New York with their daughter, Helena. Bill is a well-liked doctor for the rich, who loves his wife and trusts her to be faithful. One evening, they are smoking cannabis together, when she tells him about an incident during a recent holiday, in Cape Cod, involving another man. Bill's trust in Alice is shattered. There follows an oniric and erotic journey through the dark New York night, through the soft underbelly of the city.

The film, adapted from a 1920s Austrian novella, is one of a kind. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it, although it did remind me of 'The Damned', the masterpiece by L Visconti. The atmosphere, mixing strange encounters, bizarre experiences, unsettling dreams and troubling memories, also reminded me of 'Mulholland Drive' by D Lynch. The film is about what happens when you leave your comfort zone -- the comfort of your set ideas and established relationships. Things become dangerous and unpredictable: it may be exciting, but it's also scary.

The acting is good, the characters (including the minor ones) are memorable, and the music is haunting. It is a great movie, atmospheric and disconcerting. You will think about it for days after seeing it. And there will be many unanswered questions. It all makes sense, and yet none of it does -- like life itself, presumably, in the eyes of S Kubrick who, uncannily, died a week after they had finished shooting the movie, I believe.

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Memories of Murder

A brutal South Korean police drama based on a true story

(Edit) 27/12/2019

In the mid-1980s, a serial rapist, sadist and murderer killed 10 women (young and old) in a provincial South Korean town. The local police force botched up the investigation and never managed to catch the killer, despite getting help from a more sophisticated detective sent over to assist them from Seoul. The movie tells the story of the police investigation and the gruesome murders.

It is a good film: rather than a conventional thriller, it is in the tradition of social realism in film, with the stress on antiquated police methods typical of those times, i.e. beating up suspects and, in effect, torturing them until they confess. There is no doubt that it is a realistic portrayal of 1980s South Korean society outside the capital.

I found the film slow in the 1st two-thirds, but the last third is more interesting, as the Seoul-based police detective starts coming to terms with the reality of the situation. I also found the film nauseating rather than thrilling, I must admit. It is not so much the accumulation of monstrous murders and dead bodies. It is, rather, the fact that absolutely all the characters, except the Seoul-based police detective, are so coarse, crude, uncouth, unsophisticated, ugly, violent, drunken, and frequently stupid: are South Korean provincial types really so hopeless, so crass and so primitive? Even the Seoul-based detective is not that smart, and his morals or work ethic are not that strong either.

So, a good film, but you need a strong stomach to enjoy it, if 'enjoy' is the right word. A bit like kimchi, if you have tried it: it is an acquired taste, in my view.

To end on a positive note: the killer was caught in October 2019, according to Wikipedia. He was in jail for murdering his sister in law and DNA analysis has linked him to the crimes depicted in the movie.

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Ash Is Purest White

An intriguing insight into love and crime in today's mainland China

(Edit) 09/12/2019

Qiao is the girlfriend of a mob boss called Bin: together, they enjoy a lot of power in Datong, an old mining town that is in decline. From what we can see, Bin and his motley gang are involved in gambling (they run a gambling den) and real estate (with dodgy deals). Things start going wrong when Bin and his crew are challenged by a gang of young bikers. (It is never clear who they are and what they really want, by the way.)

The film is a combination of social realism (with an insight into life in provincial towns of mainland China, today) and the usual topics found in a thriller (crime, violence, gangs, etc.). But the movie is, really, a love story: that between Bin and his girl, devoted Qiao. They are an odd couple in some ways. Perhaps due to cultural factors -- how do Chinese people communicate their love and talk about their feelings, if at all? -- one gets the feeling that those 2 are never quite able to actually express their emotions in an open and mutually intelligible way. There is something of the Greek tragedy about their fate and how they interact, in muted silence (or near silence).

As a thriller, the film is not a masterpiece: it is moderately interesting. As an odd love story, it is more interesting, despite the fact so many things are left unsaid, perhaps (and probably) on purpose. The combination of the 2 produces a slightly unusual feature film. Many film critics have described it as a masterpiece. I don't think it is. Had it been an American or European film, it would most probably have got more measured and more critical reviews. In some ways, the plot is quite simple and linear.

In a way, the most interesting aspect of the film is the insight it gives into life in a provincial Chinese city today. Overall, I recommend the movie, which will surprise you, or not, as the case may be.

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Zero Dark Thirty

An excellent thriller, brimming with suspense, even though we know how it ended...

(Edit) 02/12/2019

The film dramatizes the nearly decade-long international manhunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September ‘11 attacks. This search, led by a stubborn and sharp female CIA officer (Jessica Chastain), leads to the discovery of bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and the military raid that resulted in his death on 2 May 2011.

The film is long (2 1/2 hrs), but it should be pointed out that only the last 30 mins show the actual raid on the compound -- and in a highly realistic way. The first 2 hrs focus entirely on the search for bin Laden, showing how the CIA managed to track him down, also using torture in the process -- the early part of the movie, in this respect, is not pretty.

It is quite fascinating to see how the Americans succeeded in pinpointing the exact location of his residence, in Pakistan: this was no mean feat, considering the circumstances.

I thoroughly recommend this film, and the acting is good and convincing throughout. For the full facts: go to -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Osama_bin_Laden

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Midway

A good war film in the classical Hollywood tradition

(Edit) 24/11/2019

The film (1976) describes what happened at the Battle of Midway, during World War II, in the Pacific Ocean. The Imperial Japanese Navy had been undefeated until that point and out-numbered the American naval units by 4 to 1, but the US carrier force prevailed over the Japanese. Midway came to be seen as a revenge strike by America after Pearl Harbour and a turning point in the war. The film stars Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda.

The film has been criticised for being overlong, predictable and not that memorable. I tend to disagree. It is not a masterpiece, but it is a good war film. It gives a good idea of how the battle was fought and will interest you, more particularly, if you are interested in WWII, war films and military strategy. It gives an interesting insight into the way decisions are made at crucial moments, up and down the chain of command, depending on the information available, and to what extent luck and timing can be decisive in naval warfare -- and in war in general.

Overall, I would certainly recommend this movie.

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The Sisters Brothers

An entertaining Western that is not quite as good as you would wish

(Edit) 18/11/2019

In the American West (1851), brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters are hitmen hired by a wealthy businessman, ‘the Commodore’. He asks them to kill a man named Hermann Warm. The movie shows how the 2 brothers -- killers who think nothing of shooting dead anyone they have been paid to eliminate -- track down H Warm and what happens next.

It is a good film -- a Western, which was directed by a Frenchman, oddly. Some twists in the plot are implausible and the story is a little bit too long, but the plot is good overall. If you like that kind of cynical Western, I don't think you will be disappointed. But it's not a masterpiece.

The film is billed as 'a comedy' but I don't think it is funny per se. This is a misnomer.

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The Honorary Consul

A good film, faithful to the novel by G Greene

(Edit) 27/10/2019

Set in Argentina, in the province of Corrientes bordering Paraguay, the story follows the half-English doctor, Eduardo Plarr (Richard Gere), who meets a range of people, including the British Honorary Consul, Charley Fortnum (Michael Caine), who is a colourful character and an alcoholic. Dr Plarr finds himself caught up in local politics and tangled up in a love affair that puts him in a difficult position in more ways than one.

The plot is very good, as it is basically G Greene's novel, adapted for the big screen. The acting is excellent insofar as M Caine (the consul) and Bob Hoskins (the chief of police) are concerned. However, I feel the movie is let down quite a bit by the wooden acting of R Gere, who is inexpressive and somewhat dull. At times, this means that the dramatic tension fails to flare up as and when it should, given the situations depicted, which means it is a good film, but not a great film.

Having said that, I recommend it, and not only if you are a fan of G Greene's novels or Michael Caine's acting.

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The Guilty

An unusual Danish thriller that you will never forget

(Edit) 21/10/2019

The entire film focuses on one character -- a Danish police officer who has been posted to the desk of a 999 emergency hotline. Through him, we follow a case involving a young mother, who calls to say she has been abducted by her violent ex-partner. The action happens remotely, down the telephone line, as the officer liaises with colleagues on patrol and so on.

The suspense is unbearable at times and the plot is intelligently crafted. The police officer is unusually sensitive, one might argue, but the movie is, ultimately, about what it means to be 'guilty', as the title indicates, when things can be more complex and relative than one might imagine -- something that applies to the lead character himself.

A very good film you will not forget.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The Wild Bunch

A classic, violent Western on the Mexican frontier

(Edit) 24/08/2019

This is a classic in the Western genre, with a twist. For a start, most of the action takes place along the US/ Mexico border or in Mexico itself. A group of ageing outlaws are trying to achieve one last 'score' before retiring, and find that there are more options on Mexican soil than in Texas: the story takes place against the backdrop of the Mexican civil war (involving Pancho Villa).

The film was a sensation, when it came out, because of the level of graphic violence and the pile-up of dead bodies -- something we are used to today. The lead characters are actually depicted in some detail, so that they are not cardboard caricatures, with good acting, sharp dialogues and humour. The story is dark and the characters are cynical: there is no idealism here and the old West is dead...

What you will remember, ultimately, are the shoot-outs and action scenes, which are amazing, more particularly the attack on the military train, along the US/ Mexico border, which is remarkably well shot. The last piece of mayhem, at the end of the movie, is distinctly over the top and requires a certain suspension of disbelief, however.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Shot Caller

A prison/crime drama you won't forget

(Edit) 16/08/2019

This is the story of a fairly ordinary American businessman with a loving wife and family, who ends up in jail in the company of hardened criminals. In order to survive, he soon emulates the other inmates, resorting to violence when he needs to.

There are implausible details in the story, more particularly towards the end, in my view, but it is a very good film that will stay with you, because of the depiction of prison life -- the violence, the gangs, and the code of honour among inmates. You realise what the culture in prisons is and how they operate: it's like a punch in the face and a kick in the stomach. It comes across as very realistic, in terms of US prisons, at any rate (but I suspect conditions are similar in many British prisons, where we hear the level of violence is growing all the time).

So, I recommend this movie, if you have the stomach for this kind of storyline, which is dark but compelling.

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13 Minutes

An interesting historical account

(Edit) Updated 16/08/2019

It is a good film that shows more particularly how the Nazis were gradually able to take over and the population, in the main, chose to collaborate. The hero is a remarkable character in many ways and the movie gives a good and accurate account of his life. The film lacks dramatic tension at times, in my view, and therefore is not a masterpiece, but it is a very good film.

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The Age of Shadows

An interesting and intelligent film

(Edit) Updated 16/08/2019

This movie is very interesting on many levels: it is a psychological thriller and an action movie, as well as a period film, focusing on Korean resistance to the Japanese in occupied Korea, during the inter-war period (just before WWII).

But it is also quite subtle: the main character, the police officer, is a complex individual. Is he a traitor? Is he a hero? Who is he loyal to?

I recommend this captivating film.

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Accident

Worth watching but not a masterpiece

(Edit) Updated 16/08/2019

This is a good film, and very much a 1960s British film, in its style, atmosphere, concerns, etc. But it is not a masterpiece. There is something a little bit annoying about it, somehow, in my opinion. It is a bit slow at times. There is something circular about it. At the end of the day, not that much happens: boy meets girl, problems arise, accidents happen, professors at university lust after young women, and so on. I enjoyed it but I don't think it is quite as great a classic as some people would have us believe. I still recommend it.

1 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Mulholland Drive

A very weird film that is nevertheless fascinating

(Edit) Updated 16/08/2019

This is very odd and rather unique film. On one level, it feels unfinished and gives you clues but no clear meaning or ending. One could argue the characters are not all developed and meaningful. It is frustrating and confusing. You would want it to be more linear and also there seems to be 2 plots, not one, and the link between the 2 is not clear at all, and the idea that some of it may be a dream only helps up to a point.

On the other hand, it is visually and musically amazing and mind-blowing, because the director is, in his own way, an artist and a genius. There is menace and mystery, mixed with a thriller-type sub-plot and enigma. Mostly, what fascinates is the rapport between the 2 heroines, who are stunningly beautiful. This turns the movie into some sort of dark, mysterious erotic thriller.

On balance, I recommend it, and it will make you wonder for days afterwards what this or that scene meant, and so on: not so many films do. And, after all, real life is a bit like that: we rarely have a linear plot we are able to follow...

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Silence

An unusual theological drama set in 17th-century Japan

(Edit) Updated 16/08/2019

Two Portuguese Jesuits based in 17th-century Macau set off for Japan, in an attempt to find C Ferreira, a fellow Portuguese Jesuit who is said to have recanted his faith, which they do not believe is possible. In their quest for C Ferreira, they encounter much-persecuted Christian communities in various villages.

This is a long, unusual film. It is a bit slow and it will help if you have an interest in Christianity and/or in the history of Japan -- more particularly, the history of Christian communities in pre-modern Japan. Having said this, it is also a very interesting movie in its own way.

Ultimately, it is a philosophical tale rather than anything else: it asks questions such as -- what does it mean to have one's faith tested? What does it mean to betray one's ideas and convictions? When is it justified to give up one's principles? Are you a traitor if you do? And to whom? What is the truth and its value in a completely different culture that has a completely different approach to ethical values and ideas? Can you give up your convictions, and yet continue to be true to them and to yourself?

All these questions are deep and difficult and, in an interesting way, the film looks at them, through the prism of the 2 Jesuits parachuted in the middle of a repressive pre-modern Japan.

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