New York: 10 Films Illustrating the City

There are plenty of films out there showcasing the wonderful city of New York (NY, US). Martin Scorsese, especially, is famed for his “New York tetralogy”: first, he portrayed New York as a vision of urban decay (the 1970s) in “Taxi Driver” (1976); then he set love torn by societal conventions in the 19th century New York in “The Age of Innocence” (1993); then he depicted the city’s violent past in “Gangs of New York” (2002); and he finished his directional tetralogy with New York’s extravaganza (the 1980s) in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013). What follow are some other movies (in no particular order) showcasing the corners of one of the most exciting cities on Earth. P.S. Nothing ground-breaking, just the movies we all hopefully love.         

Home Alone PosterI. Home Alone II: Lost in New York (1992)

Obviously, Chris Columbus’s entertainment-feast “Home Alone II” leads my list as it provides a great itinerary for a first-time visit to New York. In the story, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) gets separated from his family at the airport and arrives all alone in New York, and what follows is his exciting adventure as he tries to escape two criminals already on his track. Thrashed by critics, but much loved by audiences worldwide, the film is a good home movie showcasing many of New York’s delights. Kevin enters Manhattan via the Queensboro Bridge, and proceeds to tour the city by visiting Battery Park (viewing the Statue of Liberty from it) and apparently the Fulton Fish Market, where two bandits are hiding. Kevin then settles himself comfortably into the Plaza Hotel at the Grand Army Plaza. Other interesting featured locations are the Bethesda Fountain and the Wollman Rink, Central Park; Times Square and Carnegie Hall. That mother-son reunion at the Rockefeller Centre, decorated with the giant Christmas Tree, is that emotional moment we have all been waiting for.  Read more of this post

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“The Third Murder” Review

The Third Murder Poster The Third Murder (2018)

People hardly understand members of their own family, let alone strangers” (Shigemori Akihisa in “The Third Murder”).

This film by an acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (“After the Storm” (2016), “Shoplifters” (2018)) begins with a scene of a murder in progress. A man kills his boss in cold blood and burns his body. The man – Misumi (Kōji Yakusho) – has previously been in prison for around 30 years for other two similar crimes he had committed. A legal team prepare a case, but since Misumi has confessed, there is nothing much to debate or investigate, and the sentence of death penalty looms over his head. The case of Misumi seems to be an open and shut one, or does it? When a new lawyer Tomoaki Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) takes over the case, he slowly begins to realise that something does not make sense in Misumi’s confession, and the centrepiece of confusion is the motivation of the killer. It also does not help that Misumi starts to change his story of what happened with an astonishing ease and conviction. In Kore-eda’s legal drama, it is interesting to uncover both personal connections to the case and the foreign legal system’s intricacies, but the quiet beauty of the picture can still be found in the slow unveiling of the truth.

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“Burning” Review

Burning Poster Burning (2018)

You don’t have to convince yourself that a mandarin orange exists, you have to forget that it does not exist.” (Haemi, when explaining the art of pantomime in “Burning”).

In Chang-dong Lee’s film “Burning”, Jongsoo (Ah-In Yoo) is a country lad who rekindles friendship and begins a romance with Haemi (Jong-seo Jeon), a girl from his childhood, only then to discover that Haemi vanishes soon after meeting the handsome and wealthy Ben (Steven Yeun). “Burning”, which received much praise at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, is the kind of a film commenting on which people would pride themselves by saying that they liked it, only for others to secretly tell themselves that they do not. Slow-moving or “burning” films with intricate psychological character studies and with unhealthy doses of inexplicability are fashionable nowadays, and, in that vein, “Burning” also would like to take its place among this elite unfathomable group of films. However, the result is a clumsy, uncompelling and excruciatingly tedious film that is as much of a mystery as any non-mystery and that has as much high tension as waiting patiently for a catch when fishing (only then, predictably, not catch anything substantial at the end of the day).

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Documentary: “Three Identical Strangers”

Three Identical Strangers PosterThree Identical Strangers (2018)     

Tim Wardle’s “Three Identical Strangers” is a documentary about an incredible true story of three identical brothers (David, Eddie and Robert) who were separated shortly after birth and who then get to know each other for the first time at the age of nineteen through an incredible reunion. However, the documentary is also about much more than this. The incredible reunion of the triplets is just part of the story’s package to amaze. As we see further, after the triplets’ reunion, the documentary delves into the nature/nurture debate, uncovers the previous troubled lives of the separated triplets, and then, finally, presents one shocking revelation. In that vein, the documentary first amazes its viewers, leaving an unforgettable impression, and then profoundly shocks, raising an outrage inside every viewer who has a heart. 

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“The Children Act” Review

The Children Act Poster

The Children Act (2018) 

It was a logical extension of his fantasy of a long sea voyage with her, of their talking all day as they paced the rolling deck. Logical and insane. And innocent. The silence wound itself around them and bound them” (Ian McEwan, The Children Act). 

The Children Act” is a film adaptation of an acclaimed novel by Ian McEwan, who, incidentally, also wrote the screenplay. In the story, a High Court judge, Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson), comes under immense pressure and has to deal with two rising issues in her life simultaneously – firstly, Fiona faces a family crisis as her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) states openly that he would like to have an affair with a younger woman, and, secondly, she also becomes involved in a very traumatic legal case of a boy, Adam (Fionn Whitehead), who refuses to have his life-saving blood transfusion because of his religious faith. The film is to be admired for its faithful conformity to the book, as well as for the excellent performance by Thompson. However, it is also apparent that, despite having McEwan himself on board as a scriptwriter, the film also missed its plot in relation to the portrayal of the character of Adam.

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Classic French Animations: “Fantastic Planet” (1973) and “The King & The Mockingbird” (1980)

La Planete Sauvage Poster Fantastic Planet (La Planete Sauvage) (1973)   

Once in awhile comes one animation which is so powerful in its message and so unusual in its presentation, it becomes quite unforgettable. “Fantastic Planet” is precisely such adult-themed animation, co-produced between France and Czechoslovakia. A winner of the Cannes Special Prize in 1973, this French-language animation has even been named one of the greatest (Rolling Stone). In its presentation, “Fantastic Planet” is highly imaginative, inspired by some psychedelic art and, as some commentators put it, by “cut-outs from Soviet science magazines” (CinePassion). Based on Stefan Wul’s 1957 science-fiction novel, Oms en série, the animation is about blue-skinned giants, the Draags, who keep as pets a human race of Oms on the planet Ygam. The animation may be a tad too disturbing in its content, but, because the world it creates is so fascinatingly strange, and because its concept of the fight to have freedom is so relatable, it is well worth all the attention and praise.

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Jean Renoir: “La Règle du Jeu” (1939) and “La Grande Illusion” (1937)

Yesterday was Jean Renoir’s 124th birthday, and, to pay tribute, I am reviewing two of this eminent French director’s most famous cinematic creations, which both influenced numerous films made after them and are now considered cinema classics – “The Rules of the Game” (1939) and “La Grande Illusion” (1937).    

The Rules of the Game PosterLa Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) (1939)

This film is, arguably, Jean Renoir’s greatest achievement. In the story, a circle of rich socialites meets up in a country house of Christine and her husband Robert de la Cheyniest. The complications then follow as it becomes apparent that aviator André Jurieux is deeply in love with Christine, and Christine’s own husband, Robert, is entangled in a love affair of his own. Coupled to this, Christine’s personal maid Lisette becomes interested in the recent addition to the servant staff – a poacher Marceau, despite having a husband. An intermediary between the couples is Octave, Christine’s trusted friend, played by Jean Renoir himself. “La Regle du Jeu” is very much an “upstairs/downstairs” film where the director satirises the life of the bourgeois on the eve of the war, often contrasting them with their servants. The socialites’ frivolousness, including the fleetness of their passions, are exposed and ridiculed, and, in the end, the characters’ paths and motivations collide and the ultimate sacrifice is made on the societal altar to self-absorption and complacency.

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