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Favourite movies: Pulp Fiction; Memento; Apocalypse Now; Annie Hall; American Beauty; The Big Lebowski; Million Dollar Baby; Reservoir Dogs; Citizen Kane; Paris Texas; Lost in Translation; Rear Window; Fargo; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; A Clockwork Orange; The Godfather; Dr Strangelove; Full Metal Jacket; The Apartment; Anatomy of a Murder; Short Cuts; Sin City; Modern Times; Stagecoach; Ikiru; The Search (1948); Glory; Monty Python and the Holy Grail; The Wrestler; The Usual Suspects; Up; This is Spinal Tap; Taxi Driver; Mr. Smith Goes To Washington; Gettysburg; Fight Club; Treasure of the Sierra Madre; La Strada; The Deer Hunter; The Sixth Sense; To Kill a Mockingbird; Tora! Tora! Tora!; The Best Years Of Our Lives; Still Life; Witness for the Prosecution; Stars in my Crown; All About Eve; No Country for Old Men; M; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Stalker; Wild Strawberries; Saving Private Ryan.
Prefer clever dramas with good plots, character depth and/or a profound point, gritty crime dramas, edgy comedies and realistic war movies. Movies that make me think and/or feel.
Favourite directors: Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder, Christopher Nolan.
Favourite TV drama series (incl. mini-series): The Sopranos; Band of Brothers; Breaking Bad; The Wire; Firefly; Generation Kill; Stranger Things; Freaks and Geeks; Black Mirror; The Americans; Peaky Blinders; Narcos; Sherlock; The Night Of; Chernobyl; After Life; Fargo.
Favourite TV comedy series: Monty Python's Flying Circus; The Simpsons; Seinfeld; Chappelle's Show; Friends; Fawlty Towers; Arrested Development; Scrubs; 30 Rock; The Thick Of It; The Mighty Boosh; Family Guy; The Office (UK series); Black Adder; Yes Minister; The Colbert Report; Cheers; Action; The IT Crowd; Veep; Married With Children.
Intelligent and/or edgy comedies, plus gritty dramas, in general. Documentaries, esp on military history.
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Superb documentary series
The history of baseball, covering the disputed origins of the game, its evolution, historic moments, the key players of each era, regulation changes, the commercial side and societal and community impact as well as controversies and other setbacks.
Superb documentary series, written and directed by master documentarian Ken Burns. In 1990 Burns wrote, directed and produced the greatest documentary series ever made, The Civil War, and he applies the formula that worked so successfully there to a series on baseball.
On paper, that shouldn't work. The Civil War was brilliant because of how the story flowed so effortlessly, how accurate and detailed the research was, how every event seemed to have a profound meaning, for the poetic, momentous way the events were described and for the gravitas and pin-point timing of David McCullough's narration. All those things work perfectly for a documentary on a nation-defining, history-changing, ideal-laden war but on something as non-serious as sport? In addition, The Civil War was about 10 hours long. Baseball is 22 hours long. Surely it's just going to be a dull, dry slog?
Well, it works, and it works wonderfully well. Burns turns the history of baseball into something as momentous as the American Civil War. Every key moment and character in its history is discussed with reverence and with a sense of a massive historic event. The research is excellent of course and John Chancellor brings the same level of gravitas and timing that David McCullough brought (with a very similar voice too - I thought it was David McCullough narrating until I read the credits).
Adding to the engagement levels are the interviews. There's who you would expect - baseball historians, former players/managers/administrators and sports writers. But many are not in the baseball profession, but are people from various walks of discussing what baseball means to them. Among the non-experts are actor-comedian Billy Crystal, political commentator Doris Kearns Goodwin and New York Governor Mario Cuomo (who played in the Minor Leagues before getting into politics). All these add a wonderful flavour to proceedings, showing what it was like growing up with baseball, the highs and lows of supporting your team and how baseball is an integral part of US society.
Rather than being narrow-focussed, Burns weaves several sub-strands into the series. Most prominent is the segregation that existed in baseball (and the US) between black and white, the effects this had, how it was overcome and the current residual effects. Black players who should have been as big a name as Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb but aren't due to the racist policies of the time, e.g. Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, are discussed at great length. Jackie Robinson (and the man who gave him his big break, Branch Rickey) is discussed in even more detail. All this gives Burns a much wider canvas on which to work, adding more facets to the baseball story and shows how baseball reflected society and ultimately helped change society for the better.
Another sub-strand is the continuity of baseball and how it binds generations together. Interviewees talk about how they went to games with their parents or took their kids to games.
In short: nothing less than brilliant. All this coming from someone from South Africa (and now Australia) who has never played baseball, never attended a live baseball game and only really gets into baseball in the post-season (and then only if a team I like is playing). Makes me wish I had played baseball as a kid...
Sullivan's Travels (1941)
Interesting and entertaining
Hollywood movie director John L Sullivan is at a career cross-roads. After years of producing lightweight comedies, with great commercial success, he now wants to make dramas that show the plight of the poor and downtrodden. However, due to his privileged background he has no experience on which to draw. To remedy this he sets out to experience life as a homeless person.
An interesting and entertaining comedy-drama, written and directed by Preston Sturges. Starts off largely as a comedy but has some interesting dramatic themes towards the end. The comedy is a mix of farce and good one-liners. It's not laugh-a-minute - the farcical stuff is often quite silly - but some of the dialogue-based jokes are great.
The movie had potential as a drama but here it is a bit unfocussed. We have themes of the plight of the homeless, injustice and laughter being the cure for everything, but nothing is done in much depth. The final take-away feels a bit like a cop-out, an easy out, after all the potential paths the movie could have taken.
One positive side to the drama is the relationship between John L Sullivan and The Girl (we never get to know her name). It is quite entertaining and endearing and the chemistry between the two actors - Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake - is great.
Overall, not perfect but definitely worth watching.
Dip huet seung hung (1989)
A Hong Kong hitman accidentally blinds an innocent woman during a hit. He is determined to get her surgery to help her regain her sight but he needs to complete one more hit first. He completes the job but then is ambushed as he tries to escape: someone wants him dead. Meanwhile a resourceful, unorthodox police detective is hot on his trail.
A Hong Kong action-drama, directed by John Woo and starring Chow Yun Fat, that is regarded as a classic in some circles. Very fast-paced action, massive body count, and a plot that includes themes of friendship, honour and loyalty.
On the negative side, the plot does have a few holes and certain plot developments don't make sense. The whole shoot-em-up mentality does wear thin, especially when the subclause to that mentality is "why use one bullet when 8 will do?". They must have infinite-capacity magazines...
Still, the movie rockets along and is never boring. Quite entertaining.
Taegukgi hwinalrimyeo (2004)
Epic war drama
June 1950. A Seoul family's peaceful existence is shattered by North Korea's attack on the South and the commencement of the Korean War. The family's two sons, Jin-tae and Jin-seok, are conscripted and end up in the same unit. The older brother, Jin-tae, makes it his mission to ensure his brother survives the war, even if it means putting himself in harm's way. Over time Jin-tae becomes more aggressive and brutal, creating a distance between himself and the timid Jin-seok.
Epic war-drama, showing several months in the lives of men fighting on the front line. Even more epic when you consider the after-plot, set 50 years later! Shows how war changes people and how it's not for the faint-hearted.
Great battle scenes: very grittily shown (i.e. Saving Private Ryan level of realism) plus capturing the perfect confusion and disorientation that is hand-to-hand combat.
The film also shows well the effect war has on families and communities, the paranoia that war fosters and the inevitable casualties.
Not perfect though. The motivations of the two brothers aren't consistent through time and the whole winning-a-medal-to-get-his-brother-home thing seemed very contrived and implausible. Moreover, the younger brother's blaming every death of a colleague a close friend on his brother got irritating very quickly. His general whineyness and timidness (to the point of cowardice) were pretty annoying.
Dialogue is a bit weak too at times, favouring the gung ho variety. Many of the minor actors also over-act, amplifying the gung ho-ness in some scenes.
Still, an engrossing and entertaining movie.
Line of Fire (2002)
Excellent documentary series
A series profiling key campaigns and battles in military history.
Excellent documentary series. Well researched, with good narration and interviews with experts on the subject. No cheerleading historians who just say how great such and such was and have nothing objective or constructive to add.
The battles and campaigns are well chosen, all having a major bearing on history.
Graphics and re-enactments are a bit basic though. The other slight negative is that it can be a bit dry at times.
All in all, an ideal series if you want to know more about key military events. Even if you already have a good knowledge of military history, you'll learn something new.
The Thin Man (1934)
Superb combination of comedy and crime-drama: very funny and highly intriguing
Eccentric inventor Clyde Wynant has disappeared and is suspected of murdering his mistress. Wynant's daughter Dorothy approaches former private detective Nick Charles to investigate but he is not keen. However, the more the case goes on the more he and his wife Nora are drawn into the affair.
Superb murder mystery comedy-drama directed by WS Van Dyke and based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett. The crime side is very cleverly and stylishly done, with the culprit and even the sequence of events only revealed at the very end. While some pieces of the puzzle can be strung together, the perpetrator is never obvious.
Great atmosphere to the mystery side, reminiscent of film noir, even though that genre did not exist yet (in name, at least).
However, this is more than a murder mystery, far more. There is a large comedic element to proceedings, and the humour is fantastic. It usually involves Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy): the banter and chemistry between them is off-the-charts, amps-to-11 brilliant. Some incredible lines and physical comedy. Just some of the looks they exchange are hilarious and wonderfully flirty.
The film garnered four nominations in the 1935 Academy Awards - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor - but unfortunately did not win any Oscars.
The Station Agent (2003)
Sweet, understated movie
A man with dwarfism inherits an abandoned train station in rural New Jersey and moves there. Many of the neighbours view him as an oddity but slowly and surely he starts to feel at home.
Sweet, understated movie from writer-director Tom McCarthy, who would go on to write and direct Spotlight (and win a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his efforts), as well as write Up. Warm and engaging drama with occasional wry humour.
However, while the journey is a pleasant, the destination is rather fuzzy. There's no profundity or closure at the end and it does a bit like a damp squib. This is not to say that movies have to have a powerful conclusion - plenty of films I've enjoyed have been about the journey rather than the destination - but in this case it does feel like a let-down. The movie is not that long anyway - less than 1 ½ hours - so another 20 minutes or so in order to wrap things up could easily have been accommodated.
Overall: good but could have been better.
Ford v Ferrari (2019)
It is the early-1960s and Ford Motor Corporation's fortunes are at a low ebb. In order to boost sales, Ford aims to win the Le Mans 24-hour race, a race dominated by Ferrari over the last few years. To head their team they call in Carroll Shelby, who won Le Mans in 1959. He in turn makes Ken Miles his chief test driver. Together they make a formidable team. However, it is not just Ferrari they have to worry about. Office politics and powerplays within Ford are an even greater threat to the success of the project.
I did not have high hopes for this movie before watching it. Despite it being nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, it seemed just like a conventional revhead movie. Turns out, it's better than that, far better than that.
Director James Mangold crafts a story that is highly engaging and very fast-paced. You wouldn't know the movie is 2 ½ hours long it is so engrossing: the time speeds by. The racing scenes are amazing, capturing the pace, danger and excitement of motor racing. Throw in good performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale and you have a first-rate movie.
Not perfect though. I found the political machinations a bit of a drag and contrived-feeling (even though many of them were true!). While Christian Bale puts in a good performance as Ken Miles, Miles's character is drawn rather stereotypically English, complete with ever-present cups of tea. It seemed a bit trite.
Overall: highly entertaining. Don't be put off by the movie's duration: the time whizzes by.
Entertaining, but fairly hollow. Plot is rather basic, and the humour is sparse.
Great over-the-top acting by Michael Keaton though, and Winona Ryder, at age 17 or so and in only her third movie, shines.
Good special effects.
Dagger Kiss (2016)
The series had potential as a sword-and-sorcery type drama, reminiscent of several B-grade (but entertaining) movies of the 1970s/80s. However, it doesn't even live up to those low standards. Plot is close to non-existent, acting is woeful, production values are very cheap, directing is unimaginative.
Plus, why release this as a series, when each episode is less than 10 minutes long? As a 70-80 minute movie at least it would have had some momentum and continuity (I assume. I am probably giving the producers far more credit than they deserve).
Unoriginal and dull
Pretty dull. Quite unoriginal, borrowing a lot from robots-gone-rogue movies like Bladerunner. Really adds nothing to the genre.
Only two highlights are the great soundtrack, and Russell Crowe's acting. Crowe gives a great menacing performance as the rogue robot.
Interesting but a bit dry
1942. German-occupied Czechoslovakia is ruled by the brutal SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the third highest member of the Nazi government. Two Czech exiles are parachuted into Czechoslovakia as part of an operation known as Anthropoid. Their mission: assassinate Heydrich.
A reasonably interesting telling of true events. Shows well the preparation of the assassination attempt and the aftermath. If ever you needed a reminder of the atrocities the Nazis committed during WW2, this is it.
However, it's a fairly dry telling. There are attempts at character development but these are fairly minor and the engagement factor is not very high. Moves very slowly at times: it's only towards the end that things speed up and we have some good action scenes. Moreover, if you know your WW2 history, much of the intrigue disappears.
Overall: worth watching from an educational/historical perspective and for the last few scenes, but not 100% compelling viewing.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
Not to the same standard as the first Sicario but still reasonably entertaining
In an attempt to destabilise and weaken the Mexican drug cartels, US federal agent Matt Graver starts a war between rival cartels. His methods prove to be quite extreme.
The first Sicario movie was great, and surprisingly so. It looked like it was going to be a fairly standard action-based cop drama. However, the plot was great, filled with unforeseen twists and turns and a large dose of mystery and intrigue. Director Denis Villeneuve built the intensity well, creating a slow-burn effect. Completing all this were some solid performances and realistic and gritty action sequences.
This movie, while also written by Taylor Sheridan, is not directed by Denis Villeneuve...and it shows. This film is far more action-based with little in the way of intrigue or mystery. Rather than cerebral the plot is more conventional action-drama.
The action scenes are very good though and there is a decent amount of character engagement, especially towards the end. All this makes it entertaining and watchable enough.
Style over substance
Had potential but falls back on the old French staple of style over substance. Some suspense but drifts and feels contrived.
Performance-wise, Isild Le Besco is irritating but Emmanuelle Seigner provides the suitable gravitas and hedonistic randomness as the pop star.
Mile 22 (2018)
Bland, irritating, largely plotless, one-dimensional action-thriller
At the US embassy in a South East Asian country, a man turns up offering secrets with enormous benefits to the US. Now a crack team of CIA agents must get him out of the city so that he can be extracted by air. The journey will be incredibly dangerous.
Incredibly bad. Plot is very basic and is really just a spine to hang heaps of explosions and action sequences on. Throw in every military and action cliché and now it is very familiar and predictable.
Worst of all, you have a script written entirely to enable Mark Wahlberg to act ultra alpha, complete with trite dialogue, aggressive posturing and basically behaving like a powerful, know-it-all, self-important idiot. His performance and character are off-the-charts irritating.
Bruna Surfistinha (2011)
Reasonably interesting drama. Does engage you, though there is a feeling of inevitability about the plot.
Good performances, especially from Deborah Secco in the lead role.
Ready Player One (2018)
Great: intriguing, intelligent and entertaining
It is the year 2045 and the world is addicted to virtual reality games and experiences. The ultimate virtual destination is the OASIS and the creator of it, James Halliday, has just died. As his legacy he has left a puzzle that once solved will give the winner the OASIS and Halliday's shares in his company, worth $500 billion. A poverty-stricken teenager, Wade (in-game name Parzival), is determined to win the prize.
Great sci fi drama, directed by Steven Spielberg. Highly plausible: the world Spiellberg creates could easily happen and you could easily see virtual reality experiences being how people live their lives and escape reality. The gamer world he portrays is quite accurate, from my own experiences.
With this virtual world created, the plot we have in it is quite intriguing and cleverly crafted. There are times when it threatens to be TOO clever and become confusing, but any confusion is temporary as a bit of thinking clears things up.
Good special effects, which you'd expect from Spielberg. Good pace, making for great entertainment.
Only major negative is that the movie does degenerate into an action movie for a longish spell in the second half. This was disappointing as it had been a great cerebral exercise until then and then it quickly switched to mindless action scenes.
Good ending, with a decent message.
The Last American Hero (1973)
Okay, but not much more than that
Decent, but not spectacular, car-racing movie. Solid enough plot and direction. Just lacks something special. Doesn't seem overly profound or engaging.
Good performance from Jeff Bridges in the lead role.
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
German-occupied Warsaw, WW2. A band of actors, headed by husband-and-wife superstars of Polish theatre, set out to prevent a German spy from revealing key members of the Polish underground and families of Polish airmen fighting in Britain.
Lightly entertaining. Is a comedy-drama but doesn't entirely succeed in either area. More weighted to comedy, the comedy is largely farce, with the usual sequence of problem arises - much consternation and mad scramble for a solution - gets fixed by something that causes another problem - rinse and repeat. There are some good, even great, comedic moments but they are few and far between as the movie largely trades in cheapish gags.
While predominantly a comedy, the movie had potential as a drama. There's the intrigue re the spy, the plight of the Poles in Warsaw, the general examination of war and its consequences. However, with the emphasis on comedy, these sub-plots and themes largely take a back seat. There's also a romantic angle, which just cheapens the drama.
Overall, entertaining and not a bad way to spend 100 minutes, but not brilliant.
OK, but disappointing
OK, but disappointing. Had heaps of potential: good character development and an engaging setup. However, it never really goes anywhere. 90% of the movie is Act 1. There is little plot development and the conclusion, Act 3, is rushed. Pacing is very bad.
Good performances from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, though these are givens.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Entertaining, and slightly better than the first instalment. Starts very well but seems to run out of ideas, and feels contrived after a while. Good fun though.
Good special effects, and solid performances all round from an all-star cast.
Iron Man (2008)
Good, and much better than expected
I wasn't expecting too much from this movie, thinking that it would be a fairly standard action film. It turned out to be quite entertaining: good action, witty dialogue, the plot was even believable!
Robert Downey Jr is superb, but what do you expect from one of the greatest actors of our time? Who would have thought he could star as a comic book action hero, though?!
In Harm's Way (1965)
Great WW2 naval drama
Great WW2 naval drama. Much more than your average war movie in that it develops the main characters and looks at their personal lives too.
Decent plot, though a bit contrived at times. Solid direction by the great Otto Preminger: despite being a war movie not everything is in-your-face and developments aren't spoon-fed to you. Good action sequences, for the time.
John Wayne here shows that he is capable of playing more than one-dimensional characters. Good supporting cast.
Che: Part Two (2008)
Mildly interesting, from an historic perspective. Drawn-out and padded in the extreme. Hard to like, especially considering who the "hero" of the story is .
Part 1 is only slightly better.
Che: Part One (2008)
Mildly interesting, from an historic perspective. Drawn-out and padded in the extreme. Hard to like, especially considering who the "hero" of the story is .
Part 2 is even duller.