Film Reviews by PJ

Welcome to PJ's film reviews page. PJ has written 63 reviews and rated 64 films.

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A Perfect Man

A taught and excellent French thriller unfolding with mechanical precision

(Edit) 25/05/2020

This is an excellent film in every respect, full of suspense, surprises, and tension from start to finish. The initial storyline, as such, has been followed in other feature films: an aspiring writer pretends that a piece of writing he has plagiarized was written by him, and sends it to a publisher. The rest follows. This initial act of deceit sets in train a chain of events that unfolds with the mechanical precision of a sophisticated clock, ticking away in the background, relentlessly.

The acting is very good and the situations are plausible from start to finish, as the characters respond to what is happening to them and to each other. (I don't want to say too much...) The tension and suspense are close to unbearable at times: one misstep and you can lose everything, including the woman you love...

It is a gem of a film, which should become a classic of the genre in due course, in my view. Enjoy.

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Gangs of New York

An epic thriller set in 19th-century New York

(Edit) 17/05/2020

This is a film about the criminal underworld in New York city, between about 1845 and 1875. A gang of 'natives' (i.e. Protestant Americans of English origin, from what we are given to understand), led by a sadistic criminal called The Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis, utterly scary and realistically portrayed), is fighting it out with the Irish immigrants, who are despised because they are new arrivals in the city and Catholic. This happens against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the issue of slavery. A good deal of it is based on historical facts.

The acting is good and Cameron Diaz is surprisingly convincing as the female lead in the story, who is a talented thief herself. The film sets look a little bit cardboard-like at times, I must say (it was filmed in Cinecitta, in Italy, I believe). And there is a lot of extreme violence, mostly involving knives and meat cleavers, so, it is not a film for the faint-hearted.

Having said all this, there is an epic and symbolic dimension to the movie that does make it relevant and captivating, also because the lead characters are unusually complex for a story of this kind. I certainly recommend the movie, which you will not forget.

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The Garden of the Finzi Continis

A tale of love and fate in Fascist Italy, in the 1930s and 1940s

(Edit) 11/05/2020

In the late 1930s, in Ferrara, a group of young friends get together for afternoons of tennis and flirting. Some of them are Italian Jews: Fascism is imposing increasing restrictions on their lives. The film ends in 1943, when the situation of Italian Jews had deteriorated immensely and the destruction of the Jewish community loomed very large.

It is the tale of 2 families -- one of them reasonably well-off, and the other very rich. The garden in the title belongs to the house of the immensely rich family, the Finzi Continis. It is also a love story, which is set against the tragic backdrop of the war and the Fascist regime in Italy. But, for much of the film, the love story in question, in all its complexities, twists and turns, is actually centre-stage, as if it mattered more than the bigger picture.

The film is beautiful and melancholy. There is no doubt that it is a very good film and 'a classic'. However, I also found the action quite slow and the plot somewhat predictable: in actual fact, not a lot happens in the course of the 90 mins that the film lasts. So, I would recommend it, but not without some slight reservations.

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The Last Metro

A theatrical historical drama about a theatre in 1940s Paris

(Edit) 13/04/2020

On his way to start rehearsals at the Théâtre Montmartre, in Paris under German occupation, in the 1940s, where he has been hired as the male lead for a new production, Bernard Granger (G Depardieu) flirts with a woman: that is how the movie starts.

The film is about the staging of a play during these troubled times. The chief censor is a repellent French character who is pro-Nazi and rabidly anti-Semitic. Matters are made more complicated by the fact the owner of the theatre (C Deneuve) is the wife of a German Jew who has disappeared: he has fled to South America.

Despite the strong historical background, it is not really a historical drama in the conventional sense, because much of the film is about the theatre itself, and the play, and various sentimental intrigues going on (or not) among the chief characters -- in the manner of a 19th-century French play, in fact.

The acting is oddly theatrical and feels stilted, more particularly as far as G Depardieu and C Deneuve are concerned. He tends to overdo it and sounds like he is playing a part, whether he is playing a part on stage, as part of the play in the movie, or actually playing his part off-stage, in the film. He comes across as naive and clumsy, much of the time. C Deneuve is her usual self: cool, aloof and self-controlled -- ice-cold even when she tries to convey emotions of any kind. (From what we read in the press, that is actually how she is in real life, so, she is basically playing the ice-cold beautiful blonde that she is in real life.)

Because of all this, the film feels more like a play than a movie. It feels theatrical and contrived, a little bit old-fashioned: it was shot in 1980 but it feels more like a film that might have been produced in the 1950s or early 1960s. Maybe this is deliberate: an attempt are re-creating the 1940s style within the movie, as it were. But it only works up to a point.

The result is a sort of disconnect between the theatricality of the film and its subject matter, and it is not clear whether it is deliberate on the part of the director or merely a consequence of some pretentious, stilted and formalistic angle adopted by F Truffaut.

The conclusion is that it is a good film, but it has its weaknesses. It is enjoyable, but it is not the masterpiece many seem to believe it is, more particularly in France where it is frequently talked about as an unmissable chef d'oeuvre. I would still recommend it: it is interesting and it will make you think about all of these issues after you have seen it.

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Thief

An uncompromising thriller in 1980s Chicago that will grip you

(Edit) 06/04/2020

This is a very good thriller in the tradition of the genre. Frank (James Caan) is surprisingly plausible as a highly professional jewel thief who wants to settle down in life after one last big 'score': his aim is to leave his trade and start a family. All seems to go according to plan, at first at any rate.

The movie combines moments of intense and violent action with dialogues. The characters feel real and complex. Frank is an unlikely hero: in some ways, he is not a particularly appealing individual, and he is prone to violence. The film also shows, in a vivid way, how the criminal underworld and organized crime work: no one works independently, and the 'fence' plays a crucial role in such a criminal ecosystem.

The music seemed intrusive and exceedingly loud at times but, apart from that, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, which I recommend.

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The Wild Geese

A bunch of British mercenaries fight their way in and out of a Southern African nation

(Edit) 21/03/2020

Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton), a former British Army colonel turned mercenary, arrives in London to meet a banker, Sir Edward Matheson. The latter proposes an operation to rescue Julius Limbani, the imprisoned President of a southern African nation who is due for execution by the country's current ruler. The film shows the preparation of the expedition and its unfolding, as well as its outcome and aftermath.

Thanks to the very good acting (there are several big names of 1970s British cinema, alongside R Burton) and the effective construction of the plot and its key characters, this is a very good and entertaining movie, which actually comes across as plausible in terms of its storyline. Ultimately, this is a man's world, where action and fighting predominate right through: this is a war film, in effect, adapted to the context of Africa in the post-colonial era.

The film is not a masterpiece, but it is very good. And the characters are not shallow or caricatural. I recommend it.

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Rojo

A dark, allegorical thriller from Argentina

(Edit) 08/03/2020

This is a good film, full of symbolic meaning about individuals and families 'disappearing' in Argentina, in the mid-1970s, right before the military coup that took place in 1976. The conformist, well-to-do, bourgeois classes of provincial Argentina are keeping quiet, while all of this is taking place, and getting implicated rather more than they would like -- willingly or not. There is a leaden atmosphere of fear and foreboding in the movie.

The film is well shot and does have the feel of the 1970s about it. The acting is good throughout, and highly convincing. The plot itself is quite simple, in fact, and rather linear. In conclusion, I found it is a good film, but it is also slow, and even very slow in places. This contributes towards creating this somewhat sticky, claustrophobic atmosphere that dominates the film. So, it is a good film, but perhaps not quite as remarkable as many critics have claimed.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Dragged Across Concrete

A dark and violent thriller that you will not forget

(Edit) 24/02/2020

This is a dark and very violent thriller featuring two police officers who decide to go it alone in the pursuit of financial 'compensation'. In so doing, they tackle an extremely violent gang of hardened criminals.

In some ways, the story is over the top and there is a certain amount of gratuitous violence that is quite shocking. The movie has also been criticised because it portrays 2 police officers who are not PC, to say the least. (A parallel has been drawn with Mel Gibson's real-life problems...)

What is appealing, however, is that absolutely all the characters in the film feel very real, and the acting is memorable (but for the near-robotic bunch of killers dressed in ninja outfits). You feel they could exist and their stories are entirely plausible. This makes the story interesting and is quite rare, nowadays, in that kind of thriller.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The 12th Man

Epic survival in the Norwegian wilderness during WWII

(Edit) 17/02/2020

'The 12th Man' tells the dramatic and amazing story of Jan Baalsrud's escape from the Nazis during World War II. A Norwegian, he was part of a commando sent over to occupied Norway by Britain. Out of 12 men, only 1 survived: Jan Baalsrud. The movie tells his story, as he tries to survive, on the run, and cross into neutral Sweden. The Germans are making huge and persistent efforts to track him down, under the orders of a fanatical Gestapo commander: Jan Baalsrud has become a symbol of Norwegian resistance to the occupiers.

The film shows how he survived thanks to the help he got from Norwegian resistance fighters, but also from ordinary citizens who wanted to help and save him. It is a tale of endurance and survival, but also a depiction of a collective effort: the desire to resist on the part of the locals, against the will to crush them on the part of the Germans.

It is a relentless, yet remarkable film. A must-see. And the landscapes are breathtaking of mineral beauty as well as harshness.

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The Bank Job

A good heist movie, which is nevertheless a bit formulaic

(Edit) 08/02/2020

This is a good heist thriller in the tradition of the bank robberies executed through the use of skill and intelligence rather than force and violence: the London-based gang tunnel under the bank from a nearby building to reach the vault where the safes are kept. The story is based on the 1971 Baker Street robbery, i.e. a true story, although the movie extrapolates quite a lot on the basis of the (limited) facts, giving credence to the rumours that have floated ever since the robbery itself as to what led up to it and who was actually behind it.

It is a good, entertaining film, but there is something a little bit predictable and formulaic in the acting, in the dialogues, and in the whole project. Somehow, the characters lack depth, even though much of the story actually is true...

It is not a masterpiece, but it's a good film and I would still recommend it, overall. I did enjoy watching it.

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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.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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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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