Film Reviews by JO

Welcome to JO's film reviews page. JO has written 17 reviews and rated 94 films.

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Free Solo

Tense and intimate

(Edit) 27/06/2019

Documentary exploring the motivation of Alex Hannold, determined to achieve his dream of accomplishing the free solo climb to the summit of El Capitan. Breathtaking with intense, nail-biting moments; the cinematography is awe-inspiring. You keep wondering what possesses anyone to dare to try this incredible, death-defying feat. It gives a real insight into the life of Alex, who difficult it is for him to reconcile relationships with his lifestyle and aspirations. The scenes with his girlfriend feel intimate moving. I strongly recommend whether you like climbing or not. 

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Andrzej Wajda: Canal

Fatalistic vision of Warsaw Uprising

(Edit) 23/06/2019

A story set during the last days of the Warsaw Uprising in September 1944. Lt Zadra is in charge of a company of 43 men, soldiers and civilians. Following an air raid by German bombers they move to a new position in the city. The Nazi forces advance and surround the company. Zadra is ordered to retreat and escape the Nazi onslaught by heading for the city through the underground sewers. The company slog through the filth and darkness. 

Wajda' s film is full of despair and the mood is fatalistic throughout, making this a tough watch. The first half of the film has poignant moments:  a scene in which the artist Michal seals to his wife on the phone and hears that they are coming for her next is heartbreaking. However, the second half in the sewers is uncompromisingly bleak as the soldiers scrabble through the labyrinthine sewer system like rats while the German forces plant booby traps to kill them or wait for the rebels to surface so they can shoot them instantly. Wajda focuses on the dehumanising effects of war, particularly when a soldier betrays Zadra by telling him that the company are right behind him when in fact they lost them a long time ago. Film is brilliantly shot and edited with exciting and vividly recreated war scenes. The film deserves credit for showing the courage and bravery of the Warsaw Uprising, who defiantly carried on until the end. 

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Ashes and Diamonds

Taut political thriller

(Edit) 23/06/2019

A taut political thriller set in the days immediately after the liberation of Poland in 1944. The country is facing an uncertain future torn between Nationalism and Communism. Wajda's classic Polish film, influenced by Italian Neo-Realist cinema, questions the post war identity of Poland through its anti-hero protagonist. 

  

Maciek, a young soldier in the right-wing Nationalist Army, is ordered to assassinate the newly arrived communist district secretary. The initial attempted assassination is bungled and he winds up killing two innocent civilians. Ordered to try again, Maciek falls hopelessly in love with a girl at the hotel where he and  his target are staying. His love for her forces him to question his conscience and the loyalty to his cause. Maciek learns that his lifestyle is meaningless in the new, post war Poland. 

An excellent, gripping film with a tour de force performance by Cybulski. The cinematography is gorgeous: every frame is exquisite. Highly recommended. 

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A Generation

Rites of passage tale

(Edit) 18/06/2019

A rites-of-passage tale set in Nazi occupied Poland, 1942. Stach is a poor youth who at the start of the film steals to make ends meet. After a tragic incident while he is stealing coal from a Nazi train, Stach is employed as an apprentice for a Joinery business. Here he meets and falls under the influence of an avuncular Communist sympathiser, Sekula, and falls in love with the beautiful Dorota, leader of the Polish underground resistance. Stach becomes increasingly involved in dangerous missions against the oppressive Nazis and comes to learn about humanity and loss. Despite its potentially bleak subject-matter, A Generation is a lyrical film with a powerful message about the political awakening of the Polish youth. 

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The Garden of the Finzi Continis

Lush cinematography in a tale of doomed aristocratic Jewish family

(Edit) 17/12/2018

Beautifully shot drama with a dreamy, ethereal quality depicting the insular world in which the aristocratic Finzi Cortinis lived while the world outside their paradisal garden became engulfed in Fascism. The film focuses on two Jewish families in Ferrara, Italy during the years 1938-43: one is affluent and aristocratic, the other of more humble origins.

Although the handsome Giorgio loves Micol, a Finzi Cortini, his love is unrequited due to the social class divide. When racial laws are instigated, Giorgio's family and most Jews lose their rights; however, the Finzi Cortinis ignore the political situation, figuring that they are secure because of their wealth and social prominence. De Sica makes the point that the Finzi Cortinis, like all land owning Italian Jews of the time, defined themselves more by social rank than by their religion. But in the end, all Jews (Giorgio's and Micol's family) were doomed.

Film is deliberately slow paced and the early scenes of the Finzi Cortinis garden party are ravishing in dreamy soft focus photography. The romantic early scenes are starkly contrasted by the deportation scenes towards the film's ending. Deservedly winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for that year.

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Luchino Visconti's the Damned

Bleak melodrama

(Edit) 16/11/2018

Bleak melodrama about the fall of a family of industrialists during the rise to power of the Nazis, in Germany from 1933-34. The storyline is confusing: it's hard to work out the relationships between the characters. But as a parable about the power of the immoral Nazi regime its quite illuminating. The cinematography captures a world of corrupted opulence and Bogarde delivers a strong as one of the few morally conflicted characters, Frederick. Overlong and unrealistic but The Damned is still worth watching for its unremittingly downbeat vision of the evil of the Nazis.

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The Sicilian

Dreadful

(Edit) 28/10/2018

A dreadful, embarrassment of a film set in Sicily in early 20th Century. This one makes Cimino's Heaven's Gate look like a masterpiece. The script was muddled, the acting was totally unconvincing. One of the few films I couldn't watch beyond 40 minutes. Life is too short.

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Death Watch

Sci fi cult movie

(Edit) 26/10/2018

In the near future a man agrees to implant a camera in his retina so he can film a dying novelist's last days for a reality to show, 'Death Watch'. A deliberately paced sci-fiction which feels particularly relevant for today's media obsessed age. It's quite slow and some viewers may feel that there ought to more momentum but the filming deliberately has the tone of a requiem. The film has a dark and gloomy message aided superbly by the bleak Glasgow setting. The cinematography is effective throughout. Keitel and, particularly, Schneider give moving performances. Well worth watching.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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The Wages of Fear

Masterpiece of suspense with Marxist leanings

(Edit) 22/10/2018

The Wages of Fear is a classic suspense film directed by Georges-Henri Clouzot ('Les Diaboliques'). The premise is simple but effective: after a disaster at an oil refinery in an unnamed South American country 4 ex-patriots are hired to transport 2 truckloads of nitroglycerine to the site. If they hit a bump in the road..the canisters of nitroglycerine will explode with apocalyptic fury!

Although it actually takes over an hour for the men to embark on their near-suicide mission, the first hour is a well-crafted exposition setting the scene and establishing the characters and their interactions for the audience making the film more tense once it gets going. We never know why the poor men are here: they are trapped in an inescapable predicament since they cannot afford the return fare home. Bored and listless, the hero, Mario, indulges in attracting the attention of the local beauty while his elderly friend, Jo, picks fights in the town bar. In these early scenes, Clouzot masterfully establishes character traits - particularly, the macho posturing - which intensifies the tension and suspense later on as the men find themselves locked behind the wheel of a truck on a collision course with death.

The opening also enables Clouzot to take a swipe at American industry and the capitalist system which exploits the poor masses to satisfy the few greedy rich. This is shown through the character of O'Brien, the oil company's foreman. He offers a $2000 pay-out to anybody who transports the trucks knowing full well that this is a near-suicidal mission. During a meeting with other representatives of the oil company, O'Brien says that the impoverished men will do anything for money and, when asked about the support of their unions, O'Brien ironically replies "to hell with their unions".

So why do the men accept this near suicidal mission? One of the great strengths of Wages of Fear is the way the characters act out of complex motives. They act out of self-interest: during the journey Mario's greed for the 'dough' leads him to turn against his comrade, Jo (one of the few men who retains his humanity despite the lure of money). Towards the end of the film Mario is faced with a choice over whether to save his friend who has fallen in an oil spillage or continue with the mission: it's hard not to see this as symbolic of the capitalist system turning man against man. In another scene exemplifying this theme, Luigi says he won't waste time warning Mario and Jo of the dangerous bridge they will encounter because 'they should've stayed ahead' (so they would have found it out for themselves). However, these men also accept the mission precisely because they are men: in several scenes throughout the film they posture their masculinity (a facade to the fear that they really feel). In one classic scene, Jo ruminates about his fear leading Mario to call him a 'woman who is too scared to do this job'. Jo - who is characterised by his wisdom and pragmatism - replies the Mario is a man who will end up having his balls hanging from a tree. Ironic considering the film's surprise denouement.

Despite the film's Marxist trappings, Wages of Fear has many brilliantly orchestrated moments of suspense which have been imitated by numerous films since but never bettered. Film was re-made by William Friedkin ('The Exorcist') as the criminally underrated 'Sorceror'. Although the latter has some brilliant set-pieces, I prefer the original for its depth of characterisation and mastery of suspense.

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Salò o le 120 Giornate di Sodoma

Repulsive political allegory

(Edit) 17/10/2018

During World War II in Mussolini's republic of Salo four fascist libertine governors commit unspeakable depravities against a group of young captives. Pasolini's final film is a bleak allegory of fascism taken to the extreme of sexual degradation. Very hard to watch particularly the last scenes which depict a flagrant orgy of obscenity: a young boy has his tongue cut out, another has his eye gouged out and a woman is seen being scalped. Impossible to justify on any moral grounds, this is utterly repulsive viewing. However, as a work of art, it's impossible to ignore. The film is brilliantly constructed and shot as a series of bleakly formal rituals: there is no eroticism here the purpose is purely to evoke disgust for the fascist desire in the audience.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Heaven's Gate

Handsome photography can't escape its fatal flaws

(Edit) 16/10/2018

Handsomely photographed Western set during the Johnson County War in which the representatives of the Wyoming Stock Growers association hire gunmen to kill 125 immigrants who they believe are stealing their livestock. Kristofferson plays Jim Averill, a sheriff who organsises a posse to resist the gunmen.

If the plot seems threadbare that's because it is! The characters are thinly sketched (we don't learn anything of their motivations which would make this a more compelling drama). Kristofferson is a wooden actor: but he is given little to work with. Heaven's Gate has some redeeming features - principally the photography, costume design and the operatic score. The end sequence was well staged and executed but it takes a long time coming. This bombed for good reason on initial release and its easy to see why.

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What?

Weird and irreverent sex farce

(Edit) 27/09/2018

Film follows the adventures of an attractive young American woman alone in Rome. In the opening scenes she suffers an attempted rape and 'escapes' to a secluded Villa owned by an elderly lecher. She mixes with a depraved bunch of horny perverts and indulges in bizarre sadomasochistic ordeals with Marcelo Mastroiani. Admittedly the tiger whipping scene is one of the few highlights.

'What?' is a depraved movie which takes as much delight in treating Sydne Rome as a sex object as the characters do. I couldn't see the point to this film other than to gratuitously exploit the assets of the beautiful actress. It's more sick than funny. It showcases some major recurring themes in Polanski's work - particularly sexual obsession - but the handling is too light and irreverent. It's also not funny or witty enough to be considered a satire (but it seems to aspire to some sort of social commentary). There's no moral compass at all in this picture and the director seems to be filming his own perverted desires. Maybe that's the point. It's really like a warped, oversexed 'Alice in Wonderland' which soon grows tiresome. Worth it if you are an ardnent fan of the director.

Easy to see why it bombed.

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Under the Volcano

Finney masterclass but a minor work from its director

(Edit) 25/09/2018

Set appropriately in Mexico on The Day of the Dead 1938, Geoffrey Firmin, a lonely depressive who has lost his job and whose wife has left him retreats into alcohol to console his sorrows.

A long cherished project for Huston who adapted Malcolm Lowry's acclaimed, multi-layered novel over several years. The resulting screenplay strips the novel of much of its political subtext of Mexico's corruption by Nazi Germany in the run up to WW2 and focuses purely on the character of Firmin, a raging alcohol who deludes himself into thinking he 'drinks himself to sobriety'. A slowly paced drama which struggled to sustain my interest (particularly a result of showcasing such a dislikable, self-absorbed character). However, Finley's performance as the drunken diplomat is astonishing. He really inhabits the character of Firmin, manifesting his mannerisms and tics so credibly that it alone is worth watching. Jacqueline Bisset as his caring wife, Yvonne, delivers a good supporting performance.

The direction is solid but fairly casual. Huston elects not to use innovative camera techniques, or flashbacks , in order to let the acting tell the story. Thankfully, Finley is more than capable of doing that with such a barnstorming performance. But even so it does become quite tiresome as a film lasting 2 hours. Worth watching for Finney as possibly the greatest performance of a drunk ever filmed.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Ran

Epic

(Edit) 20/09/2018

I saw 'Ran' 20 years ago and remember the powerful, striking imagery throughout. It has retained its power to captivate and enthrall the viewer. The story is a retelling of King Lear although the setting has been transposed to ancient feudal Japan and instead of the aging King bestowing his land on his daughters Kurasawa decides to make sons the beneficiaries. Kurasawa cannot rival Shakespeare's ingenuity of language but there are some deeply poetic speeches in 'Ran' and it may be more impressive in the original Japanese rather than the English translation. The performances are excellent. Nakadai is both commanding and humble as the proud King but equally impressive is Mieko Harada as the scheming wife of Ichimonji (the second son). The film's first battle sequence is worth the admission ticket alone: it is one of the most grisly yet beautiful set-pieces of any film I've seen. An astonishing technical achievement, 'Ran' ranks as one of Japanese cinemas greats.

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The Battle of Algiers

Powerful and relevant thriller

(Edit) 10/09/2018

The Battle of Algiers is a powerful thriller about Algeria's struggle to become independent from its colonial ruler, France during the late 1950s. Film is very hard-hitting due to its grainy black and white documentary style. The film is told from the point of view of an illiterate Algerian, Ali de Pointe: the scenes depicting his racial prejudice by the French elicit our sympathy. Ennio Morricone's pounding score is a classic. The sequence in which three separate Algerian carry explosives through the Kasbah and past the French authorities is brilliantly constructed and Morricone's score generates edge-of-your-seat tension. Despite being 50 years old this film doesn't feel aged. It is very relevant today. Highly recommended.

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