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8/10
Epic war drama
25 February 2020
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.
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Line of Fire (2002– )
9/10
Excellent documentary series
24 February 2020
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.
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The Thin Man (1934)
10/10
Superb combination of comedy and crime-drama: very funny and highly intriguing
24 February 2020
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.

A classic.
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7/10
Sweet, understated movie
23 February 2020
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.
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8/10
Incredibly entertaining
23 February 2020
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.
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Beetlejuice (1988)
7/10
Entertaining
23 February 2020
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.
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Dagger Kiss (2016– )
1/10
Incredibly bad
22 February 2020
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).
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Virtuosity (1995)
4/10
Unoriginal and dull
22 February 2020
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.
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Anthropoid (2016)
7/10
Interesting but a bit dry
22 February 2020
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.
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6/10
Not to the same standard as the first Sicario but still reasonably entertaining
21 February 2020
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.
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Backstage (2005)
4/10
Style over substance
19 February 2020
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.
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Mile 22 (2018)
3/10
Bland, irritating, largely plotless, one-dimensional action-thriller
18 February 2020
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.

Avoid.
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6/10
Reasonably interesting
16 February 2020
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.
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8/10
Great: intriguing, intelligent and entertaining
15 February 2020
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.
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6/10
Okay, but not much more than that
14 February 2020
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.
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6/10
Lightly entertaining
14 February 2020
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.
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Shame (2011)
6/10
OK, but disappointing
10 February 2020
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.
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Iron Man 2 (2010)
7/10
Entertaining
10 February 2020
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.
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Iron Man (2008)
7/10
Good, and much better than expected
10 February 2020
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?!
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In Harm's Way (1965)
8/10
Great WW2 naval drama
9 February 2020
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.
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Che: Part Two (2008)
3/10
Mildly interesting
8 February 2020
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.
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Che: Part One (2008)
4/10
Mildly interesting
8 February 2020
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.
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Akira (1988)
5/10
Not sure what all the fuss is about
8 February 2020
2019. 31 years after being destroyed during World War 3, Tokyo (now 'Neo-Tokyo') has been rebuilt and is a thriving metropolis. Shotaro Kaneda is the leader of a biker gang. His friend Tetsuo is injured in an accident and taken to a top-secret government facility. He develops telekinetic powers but decides to use them for evil rather than good. He has the same powers as Akira, the force that destroyed Tokyo in 1988, and now it appears that history will repeat itself.

Regarded as some sort of animation-drama masterpiece but it is far from that. The animation is great but the remainder is average, at best. The plot has potential but becomes quite random quite quickly. Stuff happens that seems tangential to the story. Plus, there's several strands of plots going on at the same time, adding to the complexity but detracting from the focus of the story and the engagement level.

The random, rambling, plot becomes quite tedious past a point.

However, the plot is not the worst if it: character engagement is where the movie falls flat. There's really nobody to like or care about. Characters are one-dimensional and appear to be constructed to appeal to kids.

Ultimately, it's mediocre.
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Heathers (1989)
8/10
Great, dark comedy-drama
4 February 2020
Veronica is part of the popular clique at school, a clique run by the three Heathers. She hates them and the things they do to assert their dominance at school but realises that they control her life, so just goes along with their bullying, pranks and powerplays. Then she meets and falls for the cool, dark JD, a boy who shares her dislike for the Heathers. They would like to be rid of the Heathers, but how far would they be willing to go?

Great movie. Starts with a wry look at school life and the kids who make it unbearable for everyone else. However, the tone gets darker and darker as the movie goes on. The humour is still there though, just the tone of it changes.

The plot is also quite intriguing, starting very innocently but then developing into something more sinister and more tension-filled.

Not perfect though. Due to the comedy element, it is a bit difficult to take the movie too seriously. Even in the darkest of moments the edge is taken off by the comedic tone and the generic 80s synth score. The conclusion is also not as powerful and profound as it could be.

Can't fault the performances though. Winona Ryder and Christian Slater are great in the lead roles. The supporting cast also includes Shannen Doherty (later of Beverly Hills 902010 and Charmed fame) as one of the Heathers.
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The X Files (1998)
6/10
Entertaining, but not great
2 February 2020
Entertaining, but not great. Probably more for fans of the series, of which I was not one. Interesting plot, but drifts at times. Doesn't seem overly original either.

Solid direction and good performances.
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