Film Reviews by PJ

Welcome to PJ's film reviews page. PJ has written 93 reviews and rated 94 films.

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The Bridge on the River Kwai

An excellent film which, sadly, is a complete travesty of the historical truth

(Edit) 23/02/2021

This is a classic and an excellent film: as war movies go, it is superb and I did enjoy watching it (all 2 1/2 hours of it). The style, atmosphere, acting, plot, etc. -- none of that, in my view, feels stale, and that is saying something, as the film was made in the mid-1950s. So, I recommend it if you have not seen it.

I had seen bits and pieces of it, but never the whole movie. I expected it to depict the atrocities committed by the Japanese at the expense of British and other POWs, and the stiff upper lip to prevail in the end. In fact, the inhumane treatment of the prisoners is shown, but rather downplayed. I do not think it gives a realistic idea of the conditions in the camps along the railway line. But the film is not really about that. Without spoiling the story for those who don't know it, it is about a personal tussle between 2 men, as stubborn one as the other: a British officer (Alec Guinness) and the Japanese officer in charge of the camp (Sessue Hayakawa).

The problem is that, good as it is, the film is based on the novel by a Frenchman, Pierre Boulle, and the novel's storyline has little to do with the actual events. Alec Guinness's colonel is modelled on Brigadier Sir Philip John Denton Toosey (1904 – 1975), who was, by any yardstick, an utterly remarkable man and a soldier of impeccable standing. All of this is explained on Wikipedia (to be read after you have watched the film).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Toosey

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bridge_on_the_River_Kwai

Understandably, when the film came out, the British veterans, who had suffered so much because of the cruelty of the Japanese, and may have served under Brig D Toosey, were outraged. So, enjoy the film, but remember that the actual historical facts have nothing to do with it. It would be great if there was, one day, a movie telling what Brig D Toosey actually did and who he was. (The truth has been put forward in various TV documentaries and books since written about the construction of the railway line, etc.)

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

An entertaining re-creation of 1960s California

(Edit) 14/02/2021

The movie has been hyped up as a great piece of cinema, while some reviewers on this website describe it as boring and shocking given the extreme violence that characterizes some scenes (not many, in fact). I think it is in-between. It is not a masterpiece, but it is a brilliant piece of pure entertainment. Inevitably, the gore-fest is over the top and fairly implausible, but it is OTT to the point of being memorable and funny. Where it is less funny is the fact that the story relates to the Manson Family and what happened to Sharon Tate and her guests at the time: in that sense, one could argue that there is an ethically dubious angle whereby Q Tarantino uses real, gruesome events in order to create some grotesque movie scenes without any qualms on his part...

Having said all this, I enjoyed the movie, even though it is slightly too long (over 2 1/2 hours). What I liked was the vivid re-creation of late 1960s California: you get the music and the atmosphere, and it feels very real. Also, the central characters -- Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth (Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate is under-used) -- are a scream: the acting and their characterization are excellent. Finally, there is a lot of humour in the film, and some of it is truly good, underpinned by very clever dialogues.

So, I would recommend it, despite the inevitable OTT gory violence that Q Tarantino feels the compulsion to insert in every one of his films. It is a good 3* and maybe even a 4* movie well worth watching, in my view.

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Europa Europa

A Jewish teenager's epic journey across war-torn Europe and Russia

(Edit) 08/02/2021

Solek (Polish nickname for Solomon) and his family live in Germany. The Nazis have taken over. On the eve of Solek's bar mitzvah, Kristallnacht occurs. Solek and his brother leave for the East, hoping to take refuge in the Soviet Union. Soon separated from his brother, Solek is having to survive by all means possible.

The story the film tells is totally extraordinary and quite improbable and would, indeed, seem implausible. And yet, it is based on a true story, that of Solomon Perel, who is still alive (he was born in 1925) and now lives in Israel. Although the movie takes some liberties with the account of his life, given in the autobiographical book he wrote, it is broadly faithful to the chain of events as they happened.

The film grips you because it combines the story of a teenager on the run (Solek) caught up in the murderous 1930s and 1940s in Europe with the broader historical canvas -- the rise of totalitarian systems in Germany, with the Nazis, and in Russia, with Stalin at the head of the Communist regime. You feel you are living through all the traumas that shook Europe at the time, seen through the eyes of a Jewish teenager confronted with the horrors of war and anti-Semitism.

The film is quite unique in many ways and is well-made; it carries profound insights into morality and politics, and what it means to be human. As historical dramas go, it is a masterpiece, in my view. It is a must-see.

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The Blair Witch Project

A minimalist horror movie that can still grip you

(Edit) 31/01/2021

This is an odd movie. Made on a budget, it looks like a short film (it is 80 minutes long) that would have been made by students, as part of a project at Arts School. Indeed, it is supposed to be a piece of non-fiction, in the reportage mode, made by a group of 3 American students who set out to explore a wood, in Maryland, that would be inhabited by one or more 'witches' and is the subject of a disputed, local legend. Once in the wood, the 3 students are quite ill-prepared for the chain of events awaiting them.

On one level, the film is compelling, despite the fact the plot could not be simpler. The suspense builds up and I was never bored while watching the film, as it manages to sustain tension. The internal dynamic of the group of students can also seem interesting.

On the other hand, the film feels like a 'draft' (and deliberately so, arguably). The wood itself never feels threatening to me and looks small (whether it is or not) and plain: there is nothing truly special about it. But that is most probably what has attracted viewers and fans over the years: everything in the film seems so prosaic (3 students who could be anyone, in a wood that could be any wood, and weird things start happening...) that it is easy for the viewer to identify with the characters.

The film has attained cult status, and this is most probably not warranted: it has been hyped up over the years... A masterpiece of the genre is 'Deliverance': this is to 'Deliverance' what a campervan is to a Lamborghini...

You will enjoy the movie if you like this kind of film, and it would perhaps deserve 3 * for its originality, not 2; but, if this is not quite your cup of tea, there are plenty of other films that are more interesting that one can watch...

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Sleuth

Probably the best film I have ever seen

(Edit) 29/01/2021

The review by RP gives you a good overview of the film. The plot is cunningly and craftily put together. The acting is simply superb. Both M Caine and L Olivier are unforgettable in this sadistic and complex game of humiliation and counter-humiliation, against the background of class differences.

If you have not seen this film, you must. Probably the best movie I have ever seen.

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Adoration

A weird but interesting film, unlikely to captivate all

(Edit) 18/01/2021

This is a strange movie. The storyline itself, once you strip it away of all its added layers (added on purpose but confusing the viewer rather than anything else, also on purpose), is actually fairly simple. So, the film is deliberately convoluted and draws you into its multi-layered narrative, creating a claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere centred on one question: what is the truth?

The plot plays on the fact that, in anyone's life, there are conflicting narratives: there is what happened (insofar as it is known); there is what you remember or know, and what people tell you they know or witnessed; there is your interpretation and your emotions; there are all the unknowns; there are flawed memories and half-truths as well as lies; there is fiction, rooted in reality, and re-constructing the reality that you experience, and so on. All of this interferes with the plot, which is basically about a Canadian teenager trying to figure out what happened to his parents (who are both dead).

The film is, therefore, undeniably interesting, but it moves somewhat slowly, oppressively, claustrophobically towards its climax that is not really a climax. The teenager's uncle, Tom, the tow-truck driver, although he has his own issues, is the only 'normal' character; all the others are odd, troubled, confused, conflicted, twisted, or downright perverse. And yet Tom is presented as the problem one in this warped comedy of errors, maybe because he is, precisely, the only reasonably rational and balanced individual in the story!

I was never bored watching the film, but I wouldn't say it is as good as many snobbish critics claimed. It is not bad. But it is also ponderous and needlessly complicated. It will appeal to some, if they like that kind of psychological/ sentimental drama.

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The Operative

A tense spy thriller with an edge against the backdrop of Iran's nuclear programme

(Edit) 12/01/2021

This story has the expansion of Iran's nuclear programme as its background, and suspected Israeli activities within Iran aimed at crippling Iran's effort in that field. In order to infiltrate and damage the Iranian nuclear programme, Mossad recruit a young woman (Diane Kruger) and send her to work in Tehran, ostensibly as a language teacher. From then on, things do not all go according to plan.

This is not a masterpiece, but it is a good film; in my opinion, the charge that it is dull and we have seen this kind of story a million times is unfair. The characters are actually credible and the plot holds, with some striking high notes. The re-creation of life in Iran is good and realistic in my opinion. The film has pace and tension, and keeps you guessing as to what will happen next.

The weakest link may be Diane Kruger herself. Her acting is Ok but she is not a great actress. When she is scared, you can read her like an open book: she is not able to show that she is scared, yet unwilling to show it, and able to disguise her fear. Her acting is simple and almost mechanical, rather Germanic in fact. And we do not really understand why she would want to work for the Israelis, and why they would trust her, since she is not [really] Jewish and does not speak Hebrew [at all].

So, there are flaws, but I did find the movie interesting and I would recommend it, despite its relative and limited shortcomings.

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The Irishman

An overlong crime movie that is nevertheless worth watching

(Edit) 27/12/2020

This is a crime movie of epic proportions in many respects. It is, ostensibly, about the American Mafia and the truck drivers' trade union, the Teamsters, which was run by Jimmy Hoffa at the time. (The story spans the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.) The central figure is Frank Sheeran (De Niro), an Irishman who is hired by the Mafia as a hitman, and who is somehow seconded to J Hoffa's office. From then on, the focus shifts and the central character is, without a doubt, J Hoffa (Al Pacino). The story is, therefore, that of the downfall of J Hoffa, who disappeared in unexplained circumstances in 1975.

The central thesis of the film is that the Mafia had helped him take control of the Teamsters. When J Hoffa started having delusions of grandeur and wanting to run the union his way, loosening the grip of organized crime, the Mafia decided to get rid of him. Similarly, the Mafia would have helped John Kennedy win the presidential election. In return, it expected to be given the Cuban market back (prostitution and gambling having been key industries controlled by American organized crime in Cuba before the Castro regime) and to be left alone. When neither one nor the other happened, the Mafia bosses felt betrayed and took revenge on J Kennedy.

The film is, really, about loyalty and betrayal among gangsters. Violence is not glamorized as it used to be in 1970s films, but it is normalized, which is also problematical: it is part of the job. Presumably, that is how such gangsters feel, in fact.

All of this is interesting and Al Pacino plays the part of J Hoffa in a convincing, dramatic, and captivating way. But the film has 3 main problems. First of all, it is too long (3 hrs 20 mins). It is never boring and I enjoyed watching it, but the story could have been told in less. Second, the IT wizardry cannot hide the fact that both Al Pacino and De Niro are geriatrics (they are in their 80s, or close). So is Joe Pesci (the Mafia boss). So, you have actors who look like they are in their 50s or early 60s, when they are supposed to be in their 40s, and they move in the stiff way that elderly men move (something no amount of high tech can hide). At any rate, that is how it felt to me. It works, but only up to a point. Third, the lead characters, apart from J Hoffa, lack depth. They do what they do, without qualms, and without regrets. That is fine, but it can leave the viewer indifferent.

In conclusion, it is a good film and I would recommend it, but it has been hyped up beyond the praise it deserves. If you like this kind of crime saga, you will certainly enjoy it.

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Ned Kelly

A story well-told, but not a masterpiece

(Edit) 22/12/2020

This is the closest to a Western that Australian film can produce: the story of legendary outlaw Ned Kelly and his gang in 1870s Australia. Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom do their bit to keep you interested, and the movie is fine overall, but it somehow lacks depth and intensity. There are some good action scenes and a captivating re-creation of the Australian wilderness, all the same.

The romantic tryst involving Naomi Watts is totally implausible and added on for no clear reason. (I don't know whether it is accurate historically, but very much doubt it.) And the film gives a one-sided account of Ned Kelly's goings-on: you are expected to feel sorry for him -- an impoverished Australian of Irish descent who is being picked upon by corrupt and violent police officers.

It is still a good film and I enjoyed watching it, but it is not a masterpiece. It is not bad at all, but it could have been so much better. I don't regret watching it, though.

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The Fugitive

A masterpiece within the parameters of the genre

(Edit) 08/12/2020

This is the story of a surgeon (Harrison Ford) who is accused of the murder of his wife and who goes on the run, while proclaiming his innocence. In hot pursuit is a tough cop who will not give up the hunt (Tommy Lee Jones). What you get is a brilliant action thriller with some memorable scenes that you are unlikely to forget, such as the train-crash mayhem at the beginning of the movie. At the heart of the story is the battle of wits between the talented surgeon and the US marshal hunting him down: a duel played out across the city of Chicago.

Within the parameters of the genre of such a film, this is as good as it gets, even if the ending may seem a bit contrived, in my view. The 2 lead actors are very good and the pace of the film will keep you glued to your seat and screen. Overall, this is a masterpiece of the genre.

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Unfaithful

A love triangle rather than a conventional thriller

(Edit) 02/12/2020

This is usually billed as a thriller but, actually, it is the portrayal of a married woman (Diane Lane) who is unfaithful to her husband (Richard Gere), having fallen for a younger man, Frenchman Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez). The acting of all 3 is good, but that of Diane Lane is absolutely outstanding: her facial expressions and her body language capture every passing emotion to perfection. Her performance as an actress, in this part, is simply superior. If only for her, her charm on screen and her acting, I would recommend the film.

The plot is plausible from start to finish, in the main. The central character is Diane Lane. And the central relationship, as we realise gradually, is not so much that between her and her French lover, as that between her and her rather ordinary husband (R Gere)... In this respect, it is primarily a sentimental drama, in my view, rather than a thriller.

There are 2 possible endings: I recommend that you also watch, at the end, the alternative ending (among the bonus items on the DVD).

Having said all this, something is missing from the film: an element of electric tension and genuine tragedy, perhaps, in the way that the plot is shown to us and unfolds. As a result, it is not the great film it could have been. But it is still a very good film, which draws you into its concentric circles, to the point where there is no longer any obvious way out.

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Ad Astra

A strangely fascinating, mournful space odyssey focused on an impossible quest

(Edit) 16/11/2020

This is the story of a quest that is somewhat slow and slightly mournful (Brad Pitt, whose acting is very good, continuously describes his feelings and thoughts, in voice-over mode, as he goes through his journey); it is not an action movie; it is not a conventional film. It is, rather, a philosophical tale with an obvious metaphysical dimension.

B Pitt is Roy McBride, who is looking for his father, also an astronaut, on the edge of the solar system. His father (Tommy Lee Jones) is (or was) on a quest of his own. Everyone is looking for meaning and for a reason to keep going, in the midst of a cosmic crisis (a power surge) that threatens the Earth and the entire solar system.

There are a few striking action-movie-type scenes, which are very good. There are many things that are implausible from a scientific or common-sense point of view. The end result is strange and weirdly fascinating. In its own way, it is a very good film, perhaps even a masterpiece. Judging from the reviews posted up on this site, it may only appeal to 15% to 20% of viewers, however.

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The Handmaiden

An intriguing erotic psychological thriller that fascinates

(Edit) 09/11/2020

In Japanese-occupied Korea, in the early part of the 20th century, a Korean con artist pretending to be a Japanese aristocrat plans to seduce a beautiful and lonely upper-class Japanese woman, Lady Hideko, in order to marry her and get hold of her wealth. As part of the plan, a pickpocket called Sook-hee is 'planted' in the household as Hideko's maid: her mission is to encourage Hideko to marry her suitor. She is to be rewarded for her part in the plot.

What follows is an unexpected and unique blend of psychological thriller, sentimental drama, eroticism, pornography even, and horror to produce a movie like none other I have seen recently: relishing its perverse and deviant inspiration, and the crooked nature of its lead characters, the film is morbidly fascinating to the end. The end result of this sumptuous and well-acted production is a masterpiece. I strongly recommend it, but it is not for viewers who may be conventional or squeamish in their filmic tastes!

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An Education

A charming and moving little film, telling a simple but interesting story

(Edit) 02/11/2020

In 1961 London, Jenny Mellor is a bright 16-year-old schoolgirl. Her life changes when she meets David Goldman, an older man who takes a shine to her.

This is very much a coming-of-age sentimental drama but it is exquisitely well-made. The plot is simple enough but convincing and captivating. The acting is excellent throughout. Rosamund Pike, as the blonde bimbo, for instance, gives an outstanding performance, thus showing how good an actress she is.

This is a charming and insightful movie: I enjoyed watching it and strongly recommend it. And the re-creation of the atmosphere of 1960s London is excellent.

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State of Play

A classic thriller on the links between journalism and politics

(Edit) 25/10/2020

Russell Crowe is a seasoned journalist working for a leading newspaper. He uncovers a dark plot full of surprises centred on a US congressman (B Affleck), who is also a friend of his (going back to his college days). R Crowe has to work with a young, inexperienced female journalist, played with conviction and charm by a very expressive Rachel McAdams.

The film is full of tension and suspense. It is interesting, not so much in terms of what it reveals regarding the world of American politics, but in relation to the way that investigative journalism works, and why it matters -- in our world swamped with commentary, opinions and blogs, where the facts take a back seat and the demanding work of cross-checking hard facts is being lost or neglected.

I recommend this movie, which is captivating on many levels.

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